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BWW Review: HAMLET - Redux In Rep With Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead At City Theatre

BWW Review: HAMLET - Redux In Rep With Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead At City Theatre

William Shakespeare's HAMLET is arguably one of the most universally popular plays ever written, but it's only one half of Redux in Rep at City Theatre. Along with ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard, a play that comically deconstructs the iconic tragedy, the combination of the two shows give us a deeper look at the characters, motivations and plot of the famous tragedy.

Written somewhere between 1599 and 1602, THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK - or simply HAMLET, Shakespeare's source material for this tale has been widely speculated about. The play begins as Bernardo (Sebastian Garcia), Marcellus (Denver Surgener) and Horatio (Levi Gore) confront the Ghost of Hamlet's Father (Mick D'Arcy) who is restlessly roaming the battlements of Elsinore Castle long after he has been buried in the family crypt. After he is alerted to the ghostly wandering, Hamlet (Patrick Wheeler) investigates the phenomenon himself and learns from the Ghost that his uncle Claudius (Darren Scharf) has usurped the throne of Denmark by murder. After marrying the former queen, Gertrude (Bobbie Oliver), Claudius gives his blessing to Laertes (Joshua Cookingham), son of his close advisor Polonius (Larry Oliver), to return to his studies in France. The king also urges Hamlet to remain at Elsinore and not return to Wittenberg where he was attending school. Reluctantly the prince agrees to stay but vows revenge for his father's murder. By pretending to fall into insanity he throws the entire court off balance in their concern for his mental health. The king calls for Rosencrantz (Clay Avery) and Guildenstern (Dave Yakubik), school friends of the prince, to spy on him in an effort to discern the cause of his madness. Hamlet's love and eventual rejection of Polonius' daughter Ophelia (Meg Steiner) complicate his plan for vengeance and lead to her eventual death. Plots within plots hatch and leave nine deaths in their wake. With its famous soliloquies, often quoted lines and infamous plot, HAMLET retains its popularity among theatre goers due to it's sheer power and depth. I must admit that it is my favorite play of all time because of the unmatched beauty of it's poetry, dark, psychological plot and keen insight into the human soul.

City Theatre's production is very good, especially when you consider the monumental task of mounting simultaneous productions of HAMLET and ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. Both plays are endlessly complicated in completely different ways and pose an immense challenge for any theatrical company separately, let alone done in repertory. Roughly the same characters appear in both plays with the leads in one show having minor roles in the other. With HAMLET being such an iconic play, the trick is to put a memorable spin on the work. Director Jeff Hinkle uses the ghosts of Hamlet's Father, Ophelia and Polonius in a very interesting way to set this production apart, which I found thought-provoking and memorable. His use of whispers during the paranormal scenes is inspired and downright creepy. Cast standouts include Levi Gore as Horatio, his performance is nuanced and earnest, but the performance I attended he seemed to be having some issues with enunciation and volume. Making a return to the Austin stage is Bobbie Oliver, as Gertrude, giving a loving portrayal of her character's struggle with her son's madness. Mick D'Arcy in his dual roles as the Gravedigger and the Player King is excellent in both parts. As the title Dane, Patrick Wheeler takes on his role with a raw anger and vengeance that is palpable and powerful. Hamlet is a notoriously a difficult character to take on and Wheeler adds a vulnerability that is fascinating. Unfortunately Larry Oliver as Polonius lacks sincerity as the meddling, long-winded advisor to the king, missing the wonderful opportunity the role offers to advise and amuse. I must say that the uncredited lighting design is the best I've seen at City Theatre in the past year. Costumes designed by Heather Bullard are good for the most part but look as if they fell victim to the budgetary demands of producing simultaneous shows. All in all there is an underlying potential for City Theatre's HAMLET, that will certainly be revealed after opening weekend.

I recommend HAMLET at City Theatre, as a stand alone production, but as a companion piece to ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN, it's excellent.

HAMLET
By William Shakespeare
City Theatre
Airport Blvd, Austin
March 10 - April 2

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission

Tickets: $15 - $25, citytheatreaustin.org

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