"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!" Act I, scene ii
|Shakespeare & Company ; July 15, 2006 Lenox, MA, USA|
Reviewed on : 2006-07-24 10:30:08 ; Reviewed by : Will Stackman
|The thrust stage is bare; the house lights dim. There are snapping electrical sounds and brief strobe flashes. The title character is caught center stage speaking short scraps of his famous solioquies while figures loom above him also speaking brief quotations. Director Eleanor Holdridge states in a program note that this represents the Prince's dieing moments as his life--literally--flashes before his eyes as his brain fades, which is perhaps more information than the audience needs. This production marks the first time in 29 years that New England's most notable Shakespearean company has done "Hamlet." It is also the first time that company founder Tina Packer, playing Gertrude, has acted with her son, Jason Asprey who takes on the title role, while his step- father, Dennis Krausnick, another original company member, essays Polonius. Claudius, Hamlet's stepfather and Gertrude's new husband is done by British actor, Nigel Gore, whose long history around New England, includes Publick Theatre's award-winning production of "Arcadia" last summer. This powerful cast is further enhanced by West End actor John Windsor-Cunningham brought in to triple as the ghost of Hamlet's father, the Player King, and the lone Gravedigger. This is a reduced production with eleven actors; Krausnick for example also plays the Priest at the funeral.
In her fourth season with the Company, Elizabeth Raetz is a very modern Ophelia, openly affectionate to her Prince and sharing his anger at Fate as her world falls apart. Busy Kevin O'Donnell, last seen as Horatio at the Guthrie, is her headstrong brother Laertes. As Horatio in this production,Howard W. Overshown, also new to Lenox, is effective as Hamlet's steadfast friend. Fortinbras has not been cut in this three hour production. The other prince is played by Stephen James Anderson, in his fourth year with the company where he's also been part of their education and school touring programs. Tom Wells, another educationist, is Rosencrantz and additional walkons; Kenajuan Bentley, seen last summer in "Taming of the Shrew" and "King John" is Guildenstern and briefly Osric--sans hat. As usual for Shakespeare & Co., verse speaking and vocal clarity is foremost for all concerned.
In addition to eliminating the first scene on the battlements--the action starts with Claudius' public proclamations--the Players have been reduced to one. Instead, Hamlet recruits Gertrude and Claudius to read the parts and addresses his "Advice to the Players" to them--something of a company in-joke. The conceit almost works, though the intentionally amateurish is somewhat muddled. It would be interesting to see the same idea with old "school actor" Polonius playing the villain in "The Mousetrap" leaving Claudius to watch and react. The final speeches are intact, though without the ambassador, the fate of Hamlet's two hapless friends is left hanging. Nothing essential has been omitted.
Costumes by newcomer Jessica Ford place the action somewhere in past half century, with Gertrude's pastels and conservative suits of the men suggesting the current monarchy. The Prince is more timeless, even showing up at the play within the play wearing an Elizabethan doublet and ruff borrowed from the Players. Much of the time Asprey suggests Edwin Booth in street clothes of an earlier period. Edwin Check's sparse setting has its indulgences, including a huge globe light which descends for several Hamlet/Horatio scene and a manhole mid stage which lets Ophelia dabble in real water for her last scene. She doesn't get a grave trap however. The minimal furnishing, which probably should have included a bench for "The Mousetrap", does make for quick changes. Some units are internally lit, like a theatrical trunk, which adds interest. The Company's Director of Education, Kevin Coleman serving here as fight choreographer, has staged the final duel formally, giving the Prince a rather eccentric but effective style.
Asprey plays a memorable Hamlet, suggesting the character's many facets, from the political to the poetic. He's somewhat limited by the director's suggestion that the Prince is too thoughtful and would have made a terrible king. A little less introspection on her part might have freed the actor to explore the action in front of him. His current performance has bit too much teen age angst and perhaps too little of the noble mind, but is still affecting. The family connections make his interactions with Gertrude and Polonius all the more real, and provide an additional reason for audiences to spend on gas to get out to the Berkshires. The Founder's Theatre, the company's main venue at their new location just down the road from their old home at Edith Wharton's estate, offers interesting challenges for staging. The ambitious project of creating a replica of the early Elizabethan Playhouse, The Rose, in a large field below the main building continues slowly. A tent now covers its "footprint" and temporary staging, where a summer company of staff and students is performing a freely adapted version of Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters," for free. "Hamlet" will soon be joined in repertory by "The Merry Wives of Windsor" up hill in Founder's indoor black box.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Hamlet in the Presence of His Father's Ghost
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