Following up on their production of Shakespeare's King John last year, the Frog & Peach Theatre Co. boldly presented Hamlet, directed by the company's producer, Lynnea Benson. This company is notable for providing free theatre and is making a name for itself with its accessible, no-nonsense productions of the Bard of Avon.
First, it should be said that Ms. Benson's direction moved the play along swiftly and at times seemed to be competing with the recent RSC Broadway (Ralph Fiennes) production for the Guinness Book of Records' fastest Hamlet. Ms. Benson's production, though, it is happily reported, was shorter: exactly two hours including intermission. Never boring, this Hamlet did lack a coherent style; and, from some actors, clarity; and it lacked poetry. On the other hand, Shakespeare plays are, dare it be said, usually much too long, and Ms. Benson's naturalistic production had the actors conversing in day-to-day language and rhythms rather than the plummy "veddy-veddy British" delivery that tries to emulate Olivier, Gielgud and Burton -- and naturally always falls far short.
Frog and Peach concentrates on the text and acting, and if the latter is uneven and some of the characterizations questionable, they are to be thanked for making Shakespeare as entertaining as this available to the public -- and free. And Ms. Benson does not go in for the fashionable modernization, loaded with anachronisms, that the Public Theater is heir to: no vacuum cleaners, Nordic Traks and rollerblades for these Danes, although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were women (a fun touch) who looked like Executive Secretaries from a brokerage house -- one had a shocking pink sweater and a miniskirt. But Kathy Keil and Leone Fogle Hechler were funny and were in line with this enjoyable production.
Polonius is usually more of a "foolish prating knave" than Mervyn Haines's junior-college professor, with sportcoat and corduroy elbows, made him, in a laid-back performance. Richard D. Watson's Horatio was well-acted, as was Michael McFadden's Laertes, one of the best-spoken of the cast. Karen Lynn Gorney's Queen was a kind of "dingbat" royal who would have been perhaps more comfortable hobnobbing with "Fergie," but, as in King John, Ms. Gorney found humor in her role. If Bryant Fraser's Claudius lacked a certain kingly bearing, he is nonetheless such a powerful actor that he made up for this with a presence and energy that is always a plus for any cast. Jill O. Stanevich was fine as Ophelia but could have been a little less restrained in her mad scene. As for Ted Zurkowski, he gave a controlled Stanley Kowalski-like Hamlet, again restrained most of the time but with some explosive and convincing exceptions. His line readings were, again, naturalistic and contemporary. Special praise for Stephen Kaiser, a sinister, funeral-director-like Ghost and an amusing Gravedigger. Rounding out the cast: Tom Knutson (Osric), Howard I. Laniado (Player King) and Stephanie Bosl.
Fight director Kathy Keil did fine; Vicki Gellman's costumes showed good work on a tight budget; and John Kelly's scenic design was a little Alice-in-Wonderlandy but serviceable.
Copyright 1996 Dudley Stone
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