I rang the doorbell of the house in Colegiales and was greeted by a serious-looking man with white hair. Two teenagers were blasting rap and singing along in the living room. As I moved into the yard that overlooks the kitchen, a man with slurred speech offered me a bruschetta, and I got some red wine to go with it. Two thoughts came into my mind. Firstly, that with its brick walls, high ceilings and gorgeous window panes, this might just be one of the most spectacularly cool houses I had ever been in. And secondly, that this did not feel like a regular night of theater.
I was about to see Ojalá las paredes gritaran, an essay on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which has been on since March. The scene, however, was set to make you feel more like you were about to be part of a somewhat awkward family dinner than to enjoy a night of storytelling. As we were seated in improvised stands and the action began, the fiction portrayed proved to be so incredibly immersive that I realized my initial sensation wasn’t so far off, after all.
Shakespeare’s plays are, without a doubt, some of the most frequently interpreted pieces of theater worldwide. Few playwrights and directors, however, have managed to serve justice to one of the greatest quills of all time. Those who choose to stick to the words just as they were written seem to have to stick to the setting and atmosphere of the time, as well; any attempt to modernize the play halfway, without modifying the script in the least, usually comes across as artificial.
Those who decide to adapt the play into a more modern format face a different challenge altogether, which is to identify the elements that make Shakespearean theater universal and timeless and apply them to stories that are more related to our current reality. This proves to be just as hard as it sounds, and few directors manage to do so well.
With Ojalá las paredes gritaran, playwrights Paola Lusardi and Leila Martínez join the exclusive ranks of artists who have succeeded in adapting Shakespeare to modern times with no element ever feeling strange or out of place. What’s more, they have made details as modern as social media and keyboards go well with original dialogues and soliloquies that remain unchanged. The story is told with such dexterity that what seem to be two very different worlds turn out to make a perfect match.
We all know the story of Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Upon his father’s death, he is determined to assassinate his father’s killer, that is, his uncle Claudius, who becomes king by marrying his dead brother’s wife, that is, Hamlet’s mother. I know, right? Twisted, like only Shakespeare could write. In Ojalá las paredes gritaran, it is not the control of a kingdom what is at stake, but that of a company. This is where Polonius, a partner in the company, and his daughter Ophelia come in. Ophelia is presented as a potential love interest of Hamlet’s, but the millennial, spoiled and painfully sarcastic version of the prince seems to be much fonder of his partner in crime, Horatio.
As the play progresses, it is inevitable to identify what has been destroyed and reconstructed from the original play and smile both at the still surprising genius of the Bard and that of Lusardi and Martínez. The characters prove easy to relate to not only because of how deeply human they are – literary critic Harold Bloom talks about “the invention of the human” in Shakespeare’s plays – but also because they ring close to these most exciting times of innovation and social change that society is going through.
The space in which the play takes place is outstanding in and of its self, but what’s even more remarkable is how well they have managed to use it to tell their story. As the characters move naturally from the living room to the kitchen to the yard, as they jump up one staircase and come down a different one, with spectators overhearing everything that happens in the top floor, the feeling you get is that the directors didn’t so much adapt the play to fit the house, but that house was made to play this role all along.
Similarly, the actors do an outstanding job in their roles, managing to even be funny at times in this most tragic tale. All performances are spot on, but those of Julián Ponce Campos as Hamlet and Antonella Querzoli as his mother Gertrude are particularly heart wrenching in their portrayal of a most complex mother-son relationship. Mariana Mayoraz as Ophelia does a fantastic work in her shyness at the beginning of the play and her transformation as the climax approaches. Augusto Ghirardelli plays Polonius with the perfect dose of social awkwardness and, with 25 years of age, does a magnificent job of fooling us all into thinking he is at least fifty.
The use of the body from all actors is one of the strongest suits of the play, and creates some of the most tense and enthralling moments of it. Ojalá las paredes gritaran is a fantastic piece of theater all around even though it may not, at times, feel like an actual night at the theater. We could say it is, without a doubt, the most interesting family dinner you’ll ever have the pleasure of witnessing.