BWW Reviews: Post5's HAMLET Has An Antic Disposition
Hamlet is not an easy play, not for the actors, the director, the audience, or any reviewer who's foolish enough to grapple with a production of Shakespeare's classic. Yep, it's long. The lead role is insanely demanding. And the damn thing's been interpreted so many ways that at this point it's hard to say what Hamlet is supposed to be about...which may be why people still feel compelled to tackle it.
Post5 Theatre's version has some brilliant acting, some astonishing design elements, and a team that's committed to putting on a great show. The audience around me seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the play. And there's the rub. Director Paul Angelo has emphasized the humor in this version of Hamlet, making Act One in particular a rollicking delight. Imagine a young, wisecracking '80s movie star - say Robert Downey Jr. or John Cusack - plugged into Shakespeare's tragedy. It makes for lots of laughs, but it also divests the play of its tragic aspect, which leaves the ending unearned.
The play starts on a darker note - in complete darkness, with the actors lit only by their flashlights - and horror-movie sound effects fill the auditorium. I was wondering if we were going to get a slasher-movie Hamlet (now there's a version I'd like to see), but once the Danish prince makes his entrance, we're watching Saturday Night Live instead. Ty Boice has the makings of an excellent Hamlet, and when he's given the chance to play the role seriously, he's quite good. But he's asked to throw in Robin Williams-style voices and impressions on many of his lines, and every so often he's asked to act out a completely different story. (The death of Polonius turns into a riff on Psycho, for example, with Boice bellowing out "Mother!" a la Norman Bates.) I found myself empathizing with the actor instead of his character.
There are other strong actors in the cast as well. The costumes (excellent work by Irene Vipperman) are modern, and rock music is on the soundtrack, which means the actors carry guns instead of swords. Claudius and Gertrude seem to be modeled on the kind of wealthy politicians who vacation at the shore; Jeff Gorham's patrician Claudius seems like a latter-day Kennedy, while Hadley Boyd's Gertrude is the noble, supportive spouse. Gorham was wonderful, playing the character as a skillful candidate who gives great sound bites, yet manages to maneuver everyone into the positions he wants them to fill.
Two other cast members managed to rise above the schtick. Jessica Tidd's Ophelia was allowed to be a quiet, normal girl who finds herself involved with a problematic boyfriend, and her gradual descent into madness was handled beautifully. (Her mad scene built so well that the audience was completely silent.) Likewise, Jake Street's gun-toting Laertes was filled with righteous anger, and when he was on stage the antics disappeared and everyone played the scenes straight. Street was absolutely mesmerizing, and I'd love to see him take on a larger role.
The remaining actors did what they could under the circumstances, playing the comedy as asked, jumping in and out of multiple roles as required. The play-within-the-play was absurdly handled, with the "actors" coming across as incompetent (why - just for giggles?) and the staging seeming to take forever. One casting decision really had me scratching my head - director Angelo cast Cassandra Boice as Horatio, and while she did fine work, it turned the Hamlet-Horatio relationship into a romance of sorts, which undercut Hamlet's love for Ophelia.
Technically the show was astonishing. In particular, lighting designer Cassie Skauge did brilliant work, giving Post5's tiny space a wide variety of moods and effects. "To be or not to be" was played in silhouette, and other scenes were staged with different levels of light and dark. It was extremely effective, adding suspense and visual interest to a play that can be a long slog sometimes. (Unfortunately, the director too often chose to ruin the carefully set mood with more laughs.)
Hamlet is a tough play. We all know that. And it's incumbent upon the director to keep the audience's attention fixed on the stage for two or three hours, depending on which version you're using. Brilliant lighting helps, great actors help even more. But comedy's not the way to go. I'm sure even Robin Williams would agree.