The New York Times

Page E1 of the November 3, 2007 Issue

Looks It Not Like the King? Well, More Like Burton | Scott Shepherd performs alongside Richard Burton (from a 1964 version) in the Wooster Group's production of “Hamlet. ” | BEN BRANTLEY, Theater Review | Now you see him; now you don’t. And, oh, the frustration of it. | The mesmerizing ghost of Richard Burton, at the height of his fame, materializes and dissolves again and again in the Wooster Group’s meticulous re-creation of a production of “Hamlet” staged on Broadway 43 years ago, starring Burton and directed by John Gielgud. | This downtown troupe’s sometimes ravishing, often numbing homage to a fabled theatrical event turns Burton’s performance as the Prince of Denmark into a tantalizing on-screen disappearing act at the Public Theater, where the show opened last night. | Under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte, the technical team of the Wooster Group has massaged a filmed version of the Burton “Hamlet,” which had a brief theatrical release, into a liquid, black-and-white canvas of evaporating forms and faintly heard voices. Surely never before has Hamlet’s wish that “this too, too solid flesh would melt” been so literally fulfilled. | This “Hamlet,” which places mimetic live performances before the grainy, wall-filling screen version, is much more than an overextended visual pun. As the actors, including the inexhaustible Scott Shepherd in the title role, try to give flesh to the fading phantoms behind them, the production becomes an aching tribute to the ephemerality of greatness in theater. | For how could anyone without a fully equipped time machine hope to summon exactly the experience of Burton on the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in the spring of 1964, including what audiences brought to the production? At that time Burton, whose love affair with Elizabeth Taylor had been chronicled with a passion unmatched even by tabloid coverage of Brangelina today, was newly married to his paramour and poised, as Ms. Taylor put it, to become “the Frank Sinatra of Shakespeare.” | Continued on Page 12 |