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In Elsinore, Robert Lepage's hypnotic one-man deconstruction of Hamlet to be performed this month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, the doomed Dane wears butch black leather boots; his mother, Gertrude, is in drag; and castle Elsinore is wired with X-ray surveillance devices--it's truly a Hamlet for the queer age. "Elsinore is a very personal vision of Hamlet," says Lepage, who conceived and originally performed the piece. "The same actor plays all these characters who are almost of the same flesh and who sleep together and who kill each other. Of course, it's Shakespeare's script, but I've cut it everywhere and repasted it and done lots of crazy things."

Such crazy things should come as no surprise to Lepage's many dedicated fans. The 40-year-old Canadian theater, film, and opera director, who is gay, has garnered international acclaim for his unorthodox versions of the classics, including a Zen-infused styling of August Strindberg's A Dream Play at Sweden's stodgy Dramaten and a controversial A Midsummer Night's Dream for London's Royal National Theatre.

But it's Lepage's original works, produced in collaboration with his Quebec City-based theater company, Ex Machina, that have gotten him the loudest notice. Last year's avant-garde New York smash The Seven Streams of the River Ota, a seven-hour elegiac saga interweaving AIDS, Hiroshima, and the Holocaust, spurred critics moved by the production's technical virtuosity and ribald humor (Lepage was once an improv comedian) to dub him the most inventive theater director since Robert Wilson stormed the floorboards in the '70s.

It's the kind of attention that would cause most up-and-comers to stumble, but Lepage has confidently reveled in it, branching out Cocteau-style into film acting (he had a major role in 1989's Jesus of Montreal) and film directing (his 1995 film Le Confessional won the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture). Next up on Lepage's dance card is another epic-scaled theatrical production, The Geometry of Miracles, a meditation on Frank Lloyd Wright and the architect's fascination with the German mystic Gurdjieff. (The production is currently in rehearsal.)

But for now the director's eyes are fixed on his gender-bending reinvention of Hamlet's universe--and on directing Peter Darling, the respected English-born theater and film actor who will star in the upcoming New York performances. "Working with Robert is very exciting," Darling told The Advocate. "It's theater for the 21st century, incredibly vivid and dynamic. As long as I keep my sanity, I'm certain I'll pull it off."
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Title Annotation:Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City
Author:Oseland, James
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Oct 14, 1997
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