note: entire contents copyleft 2006 by Will Stackman
Less isn't always more. It is possible to do Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (1604 approx.) with a cast of eight by doubling and tripling various characters. However, the resulting drama is severely diminished. Director Robert Richmond's reduction of the text for Aquila's touring production, sponsored by the NEA's much-ballyhooed but since unnotable "Shakespeare for a New Generation" project, focuses on the title character. His version, which more closely resembles the first printing of the play, the so-called "Bad Quarto", touches only in passing on the play's panoply of themes. It is certainly a contemporary interpretation, moving away from the psychological towards the political, but by omitting Hamlet's final foil, Fortinbras--never seen in this production--the play comes up short.
"Hamlet" can of course be done without Fortinbras' appearance at the end. The Royal National Theatre, seen here several seasons ago with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, did so reasonably well, but their effort was carried by his compelling performance playing against type. Aquila's Hamlet, Andrew Schwartz, seems to have been cast to reach the highschool audience for which this production was basically intended. He shows promise in the first soliloquy, "Oh that this too, too sullied? flesh...", but soon becomes repetitive. One doesn't miss his ommitted final musing, "How all occasions..." Schwartz comes across as a perennial teenager, terminally unsure of his place in the world. Indeed, wearing his Wittenburg T-Shirt, he seems most alive cavorting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who make a fleeting appearance doubled by Darren Ryan who plays a very basic Horatio and Daniel Marmion, who starts the show solo as Barnardo and ends up dead as Laertes. The duo loses the recorder scene to Polonius. That worthy, played at a bray by Andy Patterson, becomes tedious too quickly and when the actor returns at the end as Osric, he's just another double.
As the play's villain, Claudius the usurping king, Richard Sheridan Willis is a modern politician, most effective when playing to an audience. Why the Queen, Natasha Piletich, took up with him is only evident in an interpolated dumbshow which has the two romping across the stage wrapped in bedsheets. Gertrude almost becomes believable in the bedroom scene with her son, but slips back into acting thereafter. As Ophelia, Hamlet's doomed girlfriend, Emily Bennett, is also very contemporary, but the superficial approach doesn't hold up when the drama gets going. Her mad scene is affecting, but not well founded earlier in the play. While these eight professionals all work very hard to get the play across, two more actors--who could easily be non-Caucasian--would put Fortinbras back in the play as the author intended, let R&G assume their rightful place in the action, and make the opening scenes on the ramparts less skimpy, for example. Cutting out the excess dumbshow and making the scene shifting more efficient would more than make up for the additional time needed to do more of the actual text.
In short, this whole production, though done by older actors, isn't much beyond the bare bones versions of the Bard which Lenox's Shakespeare & Co. sends around the state. The scrim backdrop is impressive, and well-used to set up entrances, though having Polonius appear as a ghost to Laertes is a bit heavy-handed. The formal trundling of furniture on and off gets obtrusive. Like the interpolated dumbshows, which culminate with Ophelia rising in her shroud and exiting in dim light as a ghost, it's more when less would have been more appropriate. The director doesn't seem to trust the text, which he's cut rather crudely at times, or the audience.