Boys of Our Youth: Hawke and Hamilton in The Winter’s Tale

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Back in the days when we still lived in dorms, around the time that college graduation loomed on the horizon and we were cowering in its shadow, two movies got us through the stress: Kicking and Screaming (no, not the one with Will Ferrell) and Reality Bites . No finer films have yet been made that speak to the fear and desperation associated with leaving the confines the liberal arts. As a result of repeat viewings at that time in our lives, we might have inflated attachments to Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton.

So we were a little excited by the latest production from Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project, The Winter’s Tale, which features both actors. Truth be told, we expected Hamilton to outshine Hawke. Did he not remain an indie darling while Hawke became a hearthrob, and then, perhaps, a hack (see: his director credit on that Lisa Loeb video; two mediocre novels and a flopped film adaptation)? Does this not imply some vague standard of quality related to performing the Bard on the boards?

But oh, how wrong we were. Poor Josh, as Polixenes, King of Bohemia, tripped ever so slightly over his first lines in both acts. Although he did a great job of going apeshit when he discovered the Prince of Bohemia’s (Michael Braun) intentions to marry a lowly shepherd’s daughter (Morven Christie), those little flubs were hard to forget. The most modest charm of a performance of Shakespeare is the actors’ ability to own the language, foreign and strange though it may be.

Ethan Hawke, on the other hand, showed up in the second act and took over, as his indie rock balladeer and swindler, Autolycus, strummed his guitar and orchestrated the matchmaking of the major players in hopes of being handsomely rewarded. Briefly disguised as Rob Zombie, complete with wig and top hat, Autolycus sang ballads that bore an eery resemblance to Troy Dyer’s performance with Hey That’s My Bike. Hawke did own his words, and his songs, and delivered them with the knowing wink and flourish of all Shakespeare’s comic relief characters.

The Bridge Project: The Winter’s Tale is at BAM’s Harvey Theater in Brooklyn through March 8, and will be at The Old Vic in London May 23 through August 15. It’s making a few stops in Australia and New Zealand in April, so our readers down under should check their local listings.

Related post: Moscow on the Hudson: The Cherry Orchard @ BAM