Hamlet: La Telenovela
Translated by: José María Ruano de la Haza
Directed by: Federico Mallet
Something From Abroad/Quemoción NYC/Frigid New York (New York, NY) - 2023
Hamlet: La Telenovela (2023)
by: Erin A. Cowling
What happens when you blend Shakespearean tragedy and over-the-top telenovela tropes? You get the Gen Z lovechild that is Hamlet: La Telenovela. Although the spoken dialogue is based on José María Ruano de la Haza’s 2007 prose translation of Hamlet into Spanish, the subtitles are much more casual, often including slang like “Bet” or “slay,” words that primarily belong to the lexicon of Gen Z and which might be just as out of reach as the language of Shakespeare for some members of the audience.
That said, those of us who can linguistically keep up with the Spanish can focus on the parodic send-up of both tragedy and telenovela. In many ways, the exaggerated, emotional delivery works with the familial melodrama of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as director (and lead actor) Federico Mallet points out in an interview: “It was so much fun to find all the commonalities between the two, like the fact that characters can’t help but reveal their deepest secrets out loud when they’re on their own.”
The adaptation, in terms of text, sticks fairly close to the translated version they chose as their base. As a review by John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards for Thinking Theatre NYC, points out “Rather than beginning with Old Hamlet's ghost, Hamlet: La Telenovela begins with a sort of combination funeral and wedding party scene that sets up the important plot dynamics for the audience,” a choice that was likely dictated by the choice Ruano de la Haza made in cutting the first scene with the two nightwatchmen. The dialogue is fast-paced, but still unmatched by the velocity of the actors as they race through several tropes of the telenovela genre, not to mention the addition of "commercial breaks" performed by the actors and integrated into the show to simulate a true television viewing.
This adaptation is so multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, and multi-linguistic that it is hard to keep up with all the various layers. With all the visual stimuli on stage, it felt disjointed for the artistic team to chose to then retranslate the text not only into English, but into a very colloquial/slang filled dialogue (except, as Zieglar and Richards point out, during the commercials, which use the original Shakespearean text). Trying to listen to the traditional Spanish dialogue, match it with the exuberant performances, and follow a very different version via the subtitles made for a dizzying experience.
But perhaps that was just the point. Giving audiences all three entry points meant that you could also follow along without understanding at least one of them. The story of Hamlet is well enough known to not really require a full understanding of every spoken word, and telenovelas follow very specific motifs and tropes that the show also employed to get their story across, and which most people would recognize even if they’ve never seen a full run of a televised novela. The subtitles, projected on a television screen offstage, were a secondary or even tertiary element for audience interaction. Still, as Mallet himself asserts “It was exciting to realize we didn’t have to change the original text for these two worlds to merge together,” making the inclusion of such vastly different subtitles seem like an odd choice. In any case, the enthusiastic audience with whom I shared the experience were entertained, particularly by the machinations of Castor Pepper as a cross-gender version of Polonius named Apolonia. Other standout performances include Mallet as Hamlet, Martha Preve as Horacio, Shlomit Oren as Ofelia, and Silvana González as Gertrudis.
Certainly, Hamlet: La Telenovela follows Carla Della Gatta’s concept of theatrical bilanguaging, or the “liberation from discrete genres of theatrical storytelling as well as Shakespearean English [that] pushes against the idea of universality to expand theater communities for a specific locality” and creates a uniquely Latinx version of a Shakespearean text. Perhaps that’s why the subtitles seem like an afterthought, both in physical placement and their inaccessibility to most English speakers over the age of twenty-five. Ultimately, they provide a secondary level of amusement to those who need them and can follow them, but likely at the risk of missing out on the visual comedy taking place on stage. By keeping the dialogue monolingual (but Spanish) and monocultural (though the use of the telenovela adaptation), Hamlet: La Telenovela is signaling that this is a Latinx Shakespearean adaptation directed at Latinx audiences.
 Soltes, John. “INTERVIEW: You’re Invited to ‘Hamlet,’ This Time as a Telenovela.” Hollywood Soapbox, 23 July 2023, https://www.hollywoodsoapbox.com/interview-youre-invited-to-hamlet-this-time-as-a-telenovela/.
 Ziegler, John R., and Leah Richards. “Review: You’ll Want to See What Happens Next in ‘Hamlet: La Telenovela.’” Thinking Theater NYC, 24 July 2023, https://www.thinkingtheaternyc.com/2023/07/review-youll-want-to-see-what-happens.html.
 Della Gatta, Carla. Latinx Shakespeares: Staging U.S. Intracultural Theater. U Michigan P, 2023. 109.