Hamlet at Writers’ Theatre

So.  Writers’ kicked off the season with Hamlet.  Pretty bold.

I had a copy of the old Lawrence Olivier version and watched it for the first time a week or so ago – just to try and get Kenneth Brannagh out of my head.  It reminded me of two things:

  1. One of the really interesting things when comparing interpretations of Hamlet is..because it is so bloody long..what the director chooses to leave out.  For example, the Olivier version entirely dropped the characters of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
  2. I cannot stand Polonius.  Seriously.  If I were to make a Top 10 List of most heinous fictional characters of all time, Polonius would most certainly make the cut.

I wonder what it says about a production of Hamlet when the actor playing Polonius (Ross Lehman) steals the damn show?

One easy place to judge is how they pull off the scenes with the ghost.  Is it believably creepy and intimidating or a cheeseball mess?  Larry Yando and some particularly effective audio and lighting made it work very well.

Shannon Cochran, a regular at Writers’, played Gertrude with some attitude of the eye-rolling variety that I rather enjoyed.  (I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear her say, “Dude, seriously.  He is grievingfor his father.”)  Michael Canavan as Claudius was not quite as..slithery as some I have seen.  Made several scenes easier to take, actually.  Kareem Bandealy rocked playing Horatio – probably my favorite character –  as there were many sniffles to be heard during the final scene.

Which leaves us with Scott Parkinson as Hamlet himself.  He has been at Writers’ Theatre before and I enjoy his work.  The odd thing is I think much of what I noticed in his performance were director Michael Halberstam’s fingerprints.  For example, the distinctive interpretive thing that I saw was the progression of the “madness”.  I am no scholar of Shakespeare, (and Halberstam most definitely is) but my sense is that Hamlet begins in grief, has a “crazy like a fox” thing going for a bit, and then somewhere along the way loses the line between feigning madness and going mad.  Some of the subtlety was lost on me and Hamlet looked freakin’ nuts very early on.  Also, I wasn’t really feeling the love between Hamlet and Ophelia.  (However, I may be overly-influenced by Brannagh’s full-frontal-assault version of the affair.) Having said that, Parkinson played the laughs to perfection, which can’t be easy, and he nailed the final scene.

As always, Writers’ took an epic and played it so well that you forget the small space and just live in it for a bit.  I was particularly glad during the fencing not to be sitting in the front row.

So, yeah.  This was a good one.

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