The best word for the royal family of Denmark is dysfunctional. No matter what tortured explanation is offered for the queen's marrying her dead husband's brother (royal succession, lust, you name it), poor Hamlet is left out in the cold, and he's furious about it. The hurdle facing any production is making the very familiar plot fresh, either by interpretation or performances. Theater Ten Ten's production succeeded admirably in many areas, but fell flat in others.
Hamlet is as much about words as anything else. In spite of some shaky acoustics at the small playing area (audience and cast were all on the stage), the words were generally well-spoken, and some inventive made the audience listen to them in different ways. Characters who ordinarily have no business being on stage at certain moments gave a different slant to familiar moments. When Hamlet (David Fuller) went into the "too too solid flesh" soliloquy, he was not alone on stage. The very lusty Claudius (Nicholas Martin-Smith) and Gertrude (Janice Johnson) were frozen in a kiss, inviting thoughts on the nature of solid flesh and corporeality. Later the two sat on opposite sides of the stage, present for, if not quite observing, the action on stage. It was also fun to watch some characters so eager to speak that they attempted to interrupt other's speeches, showing they were actually listening to one other, rather than just waiting for the other to stop talking.
Not all was indirect, though, as emotion showed through from some excellent playing. Laertes (Scott Galbraith) and Ophelia (Katherine Puma) showed genuine fondness for each other, making their later tragedies even more sorrowful. Polonius, well played by Fred Burrell, had a humorous bluster, but his genuine emotion on Laertes's leaving made the emphasis of "neither a borrower nor lender be/to thine own self be true" less about giving advice and more effectively about a father who will miss a son.
Because it was mostly well-spoken, this production was a very naturally played drama in most of its parts -- the main exception being David Fuller's Hamlet, which leaned toward the melodramatic. His Hamlet was more diction than thought, more earnestness than meaning. When he rejected Ophelia with the suggestion of a nunnery, his emotion seemed unconnected with his plan for madness and seemed hollow. Gertrude was also on stage for this scene, and her presence, unacknowledged, was more resonant than the speechifying. The same happened with "To be or not to be" -- there was emotion in it but no urgency. And again, Gertrude being on stage while Hamlet spoke gave the scene its power.
The production ended very strongly as the action and the audience moved to the larger auditorium area for the fight between Laertes and Hamlet, very well staged by John Travers. The script was trimmed judiciously, with only Fortinbras being given short shrift.
Nicholas Martin-Smith, as a hormone-laden Claudius, tended to rush his lines; Janice Johnson's girlish Gertrude got subtleties across very well; Katherine Puma showed Ophelia's despair at being a pawn in a game she doesn't understand; Mario Ortiz was a solid, concerned Horatio. Also effective in many supporting roles were Jeff Biehl and Joshua L. Batty (most particularly as gravediggers), Mark Rimer (especially as a player), and Jeff Brick, who used his height to convey stature as well as discomfort.
Mark Simpson's lighting and Bruce Ost's sound design made the stage seem larger than it was. While somewhat uneven, this was a worthy Hamlet.
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Copyright 1997 David Mackler