By Ben Winters
Something is definitely rotten in Denmark - for one thing, it has moved to Midtown Manhattan.
This is the doing of director Michael Almereyda and his flashy Hamlet, which transports the tortured tale from gloomy medieval Scandinavia to brooding contemporary New York. Over the 400 years that Shakespeare's existential revenge play has tantalized directors, each has refashioned the piece, grafting on new concerns and bending the story to fit new contexts. Most often, however, they've been content to retain the basic notion that the Prince of Denmark is both a prince and a Dane.
But in Almereyda's take, Castle Elsinore has found new life as a sleek, glass-walled hotel somewhere off Times Square, in the heart of the new New York, glimmering and crimeless even at midnight - except for the occasional regicide. As Baz Luhrmann did in 1996 with his street-level fantasia Romeo + Juliet, Almereyda has seized the Bard by the forelocks and dragged him boldly through space and time, arriving in the irony-soaked, fast-edit world of 2000, where only goateed slacker hero Ethan Hawke makes sense in the lead.
Here's Claudius and Gertrude at a press conference announcing their betrothal, smiling flawlessly under the glare of klieg lights; here's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern downing longnecks, hollering their betrayals over blaring electronica; here's hip-hop Ophelia in baggy jeans, brows furrowed in adolescent petulance, the very model of a modern rootless club kid. Much has been deleted from Shakespeare's script, in the name of logic as much as brevity; Hamlet cannot give his famous instructions to the players ("do not saw the air too much with your hand"), since the "play" that is to "catch the conscience of the king" is now a film and video installation.