Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hamlet"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"HAMLET"

by William Shakespeare
directed by Brian McEleney

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark … Stephen Thorne
King Hamlet, his late father; a Gravedigger … Fred Sullivan, Jr.
Queen Gertrude, his mother … Cynthia Strickland
Claudius, his uncle and stepfather … Timothy Crowe
Horatio, his friend … Joe Wilson, Jr.
Polonius, attendant to the royal family … Janice Duclos
Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter … Rachael Warren
Laertes, Ophelia’s brother … Justin Blanchard
The Lead Player; Marcellus; Priest … William Damkoehler
Rosencrantz; Bernardo; Osric … Louis Changchien
Guildenstern; a Gravedigger … Rama Marshall
Ensemble … Mat Arruda; Barbara Chan; Stephanie Chlebus; Sarah Comtois
Pianist … Rob Jarbadan

Once upon a Time in a well-to-do family between the two world wars there lived the lady of the house whose only thought was to please her husband. When suddenly widowed, the lady chose to marry her late husband’s brother --- an odd choice as the man was no livelier than his departed sibling, but marry him she did to the annoyance of her son who drank too much and had a thing for one of the maids, a girl doomed to madness since she couldn’t tell a doublet from a bathrobe. One evening, whilst quarreling with Mummy, the son shot and killed the female housekeeper whom he had mistaken for --- of all people --- his step-father. The intended victim, fed up with his stepson’s antics, shipped him off to England (which Mr. Shaw would consider punishment, enough) but the lad came home in time for the funeral of the maid who, after some frenzied splashing in a bathtub, up and drowned herself in the river at the height of summer according the lady of the house though the deceased was last seen kissing her butler-brother on the lips aboard an ice flow (the housekeeper had been their mother, you see). The son and the butler, once jolly good friends despite their class differences, killed each other with rapiers (another odd choice since they previously brandished guns); the lady of the house soon joined them on the floor and the stepfather succumbed to drink. The son’s faithful schoolmate was left to explain it all to the open air as the dead rose up behind him.

Here is Trinity Repertory’s Masterpiece Theatre HAMLET with the Bard’s verse tucked in amongst teacups and piano, armchairs and cocktail chatter. The production is handsomely designed by Tristan Jeffers and as polished as its upstage sideboard and cupboards gleaming with china and about as lively despite the familiar Trinity scampering, climbing and racing about (the emotional temperature is lukewarm, at best). This is the second HAMLET in the past few weeks where Fortinbras has been omitted and with him goes the tragedy’s true conclusion --- that Denmark falls to its old enemy, Norway --- but at least the Aquila production had its Hamlet delivering his monologues stock still; here, director Brian McEleney freezes the first tableau to allow Hamlet to wander and peer into the faces for “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew”; for “To be or not to be,” the Dane, nursing a glass, mingles and talks to the audience as drinking buddies….but, enough. The company’s HENRIAD made for exciting bare-bones theatre with its blend of period and modern and Stephen Thorne, an ideal storybook prince; its HAMLET only swells the ranks of Bard-disappointments. (Don’t directors realize how exhausting it is for Shakespeare lovers to comprehend their visions? First, a character/line/scene must be remembered in its original state; second, the director’s glass must be simultaneously accessed to determine be it cloudy or clear; third, if the merged results fail to enchant, the Shakespeare lover must do his own filtering to salvage some enjoyment from the evening.)

I had hopes that Mr. Thorne’s boyish dash would morph into a noble, shining Prince; under Mr. McEleney’s direction, this Hamlet is bored and snippy --- if this were a whodunit, he would be one of the murder suspects --- and Mr. Thorne’s slender instrument substitutes shouting for passion. Joe Wilson, Jr. makes a good, ballsy Horatio --- what a protean actor he has proved for Trinity, thus far! --- and newcomer Louis Changchien, in three roles, is a good-looking, silken presence. As for the rest of the ensemble, those who have delighted or moved me in the past continue to do so; those with whom I have had issues need not have me scribble about them, once again --- that way repetition lies, on both sides of the footlights.

"Hamlet" (27 January - 5 March)
TRINITY REPERTORY COMPANY
201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE, RI
1 (401) 351-4242

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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