Marie Godeau and Alexandra Zelman-Doring. Photo by Adolfo Doring
The Flea Theater hosts a three-week run of Act Before You Speak, a new production of Hamlet by Throes Theater company (opening August 3). The 70-minute play, written for two women (who remain silent throughout) and a violin, distills the words of the original down to their composite emotions—grief, love, revenge, madness. (Hedvig Claesson directs the production, with an original score composed by Jirí Kaderábek and Mahir Çetiz.) Each scene wraps itself around a single quotation from Shakespeare’s work, seeking to crack open and expose the organs of the text, bending physics so socks become skulls and the entire story of Hamlet occurs in six distinct encounters with six different characters. We sat down with the stars of the play, author and actress Alexandra Zelman-Doring and actress Marie Godeau.
Q: What was the inspiration for the play?
Alexandra Zelman-Doring: It developed organically from work in the theater. Actions, encounters—we’re going for more universal elements. So we have Hamlet and his best friend, Hamlet and his mother. Today you find a lot of Shakespeare that’s all about the language, and you forget what’s physical.
Q: Would you be able to do this without music?
AZD: Well, I wouldn’t want to. Put it that way.
Marie Godeau: The music is so present, and the violinist [acclaimed composer and violinist Ana Milosavljevic] is constantly on stage. There are no blackouts, no curtains. There are some moments where she doesn’t play, but even in silence she’s present. And she scares people. She is the ghost, she is the narrator—perhaps the puppeteer.
Q: Shakespeare wrote his plays almost entirely as dialogue and speeches. Was there something about Hamlet in particular that called for silence?
AZD: Silence can be a way of speaking. He performs actions that speak as clearly as words, really. Because we’re going for clarity, it’s not supposed to be some super avant-garde you-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-is-going-on performance—it’s really not that. It’s very clear. It’s actually more simple even than the words. Actions can strike at the heart of something.
Q: Like music. Is it because actions don’t play games in the way that words can, through wordplay and double entendre?
MG: Of course there is double entendre and games with words. We do it every day with the way we carry ourselves and our bodies. There’s always duality in what we show and what’s really happening in the inner, inner self. But because that’s all we have onstage, because there are no words, it’s very bare. The audience sees everything.
AZD: We’re better at performing it than we are at speaking about it.
Through August 26; tickets, $20; The Flea Theater, 41 White St.; 212-226-2407; theflea.org.