He is but mad north by northwest

Hamlet comes to Tel Aviv under the creative eye of Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrosius.

Andrius Mamontovas 88 248 (photo credit: Dmitri Matvejev)
Andrius Mamontovas 88 248
(photo credit: Dmitri Matvejev)
Lithuanian stage director Eimuntas Nekrosius, hailed as one of Europe's best, is bringing his Hamlet to Tel Aviv. The much-praised show was first staged in 1997 in his native land and was presented at festivals throughout the world, earning its creator international recognition. In Israel, Hamlet will run only twice, July 13 and 14, at Tel Aviv's Cameri Theater as part of the international festival for the city's centennial. Plays staged by Nekrosius range from Lithuanian rock opera to such Russian classics as Pushkin's Little Tragedies, Gogol's The Nose and the contemporary Children of Rosenthal, as well as Verdi's Macbeth for Theatro Communale in Florence. His numerous awards include the Lithuanian National Prize, the Konstantin Stanislawsky international prize and the prestigious Italia UBU, to name a few. Nekrosius's bio, published on his theater's Internet site, is much shorter than the list of his works and awards; it simply says that the director, who was born in 1952 in the village of Pazobris, graduated from the Moscow Lunacharsky Art Institute in 1978 and worked for theaters in his country before establishing his own Meno Fortas studio in 1998. Aside from staging Nekrosius's works, the studio aims to coordinate international theater projects and to promote young local artists. Describing Nekrosius's directing style in general and that of Hamlet in particular, theater critics speak about the emotional intensity of his shows, of visual metaphors that emerge from the use of primal materials such as fire, ice, water and iron, of the " recorded soundtrack, which includes everything from Verdi and Brahms to contemporary rock" - but above all, of the "poignant use of music… from the sounds his actors elicit from objects onstage." "During the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, the futility of violence was captured in the hollow swish of metal rapiers slashing against the wind," writes Ron Jenkins of The New York Times, who saw Hamlet in the historic Danish fortress of Elsinore. And just as he strips a play of everything less important in order to pronounce the essential, in a phone interview from his Vilnius theater office, Nekrosius comes across as laconic and natural. Meno Fortas is Lithuanian for "fortress of art," but the director waves off interpretations about protecting cultural values or being revolutionaries. "This was a new project, and we needed a catchy word for it," he says. "Nothing more." Still, judging from their international success, there must be something special about his theater. What is that makes it different from other companies? "We support ourselves financially," he says. "As for the rest - I believe that all theater companies in the world are similar, they do the same things." Nekrosius defines Meno Fortas as "an actor's theater," but says there's no particular system in his work with actors: "I don't like systems; a creative approach is what counts. Every day, the things are different. This is all about the actor and his mood. Sometimes, if it does not work, we simply do not rehearse." The scenery is important, he adds, "but we try not to overload the stage, leaving the space for actors. The same goes for music - it sounds all the time, helping the actor to create a special mood." And how does he choose actors for his shows? "In a small country like Lithuania, casting is very simple: Everybody knows everybody," he says. But he still has his standards. "First and foremost, the actor has to be a good human being - modest, not carried away by success or by failure. Because there are always ups and downs. But if a person is stable, we can overcome it," he says. Andrius Mamontovas, who plays the title character, is a rock star, a cult figure in Lithuania, but not a professional theater actor. "So what?" exclaims Nekrosius. "He has a powerful presence, and his stage experience is much [greater] than that of any other actor." Nekrosius's vision for Hamlet "is something so negligibly small as compared to the play itself that there's nothing to talk about," he says. "This is a great text, there's no need to invent new interpretations and solutions. Everything is already written by Shakespeare; one only needs to look into the words attentively. This is such powerful literature, the characters are so rich and mysterious - what sort of director should one be not to love Shakespeare?" Nekrosius's native Lithuania, where he works and creates, is a land of lakes and forests, and its rich medieval past seems not far from our times. Did this make the task of transferring Hamlet to the Lithuanian stage easier? "The Middle Ages are not far from France, they are not far from Germany, either," he says. "It does not matter in which country you stage Hamlet and [with which] company. It is always extremely hard, and also a great responsibility." Nekrosius works with international companies as well as Lithuanian ones. But, he says, there is little difference. "If you know what are you going to say, it really does not matter. But if you've got only a half-truth, the actors will soon feel it, and it will never work." Hamlet will be presented at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv on July 13 and 14 at 8:30 p.m. Translation into Hebrew and Russian is provided. For reservations, call (03) 606-0960.