BWW Reviews: HAMLET Crackles With Welcome Intensity
A frequently produced work of theatrical literature, Shakespeare's Hamlet rarely manages to be as intricately fascinating on stage as it is on the page. The play itself is a masterwork of tragedy, but there is often a troubling stodginess that dulls the sharp edges of corruption and madness from productions too concerned with recreating old English lore in an old English style.
This is not the case with John Blondell's Hamlet. Santa Barbara's Lit Moon Productions presents an aggressive, 4-actor, black box rendition of Shakespeare's great tragedy; it's infused with the vivid, powerful drama that is laced through Shakespeare's verses. Blondell deconstructs Hamlet into a fast-paced, concentrated journey through the dark, paranoid places of the mind. As they are forever fated to do, Hamlet and his kin struggle through the upheaval of Denmark's abrupt and suspicious change in leadership. This play has the potential to hover on the introspective conflict rather than push that drama outward into the audience, but this type of momentum-killing brooding was absent from Lit Moon's production. Blondell's Hamlet crackled with intensity from the very first moments, when the lights went out and the theater was engulfed by dark silence heavy and lengthy enough to force the audience into the collective consciousness of the production. Like the characters, the audience had no chance for easy escape, which made the stakes all the more palpable.
Hamlet (Jeff Mills) constantly ponders the play's fundamental question: to be or not to be. However, he is constantly interrupted, and the quintessential speech is transformed from one man's monologue to a conversation between a bold, gritty version of the Dane and the rest of the players. The overall aesthetic of the show is stark and contemporary. Music is provided by a trashcan percussionist, and costumes are simple and modern. The set is a wall of white paper, a membrane between the dichotomous worlds created within the play: life and the afterlife; reality and fantasy; the internal and the external. Characters punch holes in the membrane to force passageways. Overall, this version of Hamlet seemed necessary and immediate; the focus was on full expression of the tragic events unfolding in a flurry. Sometimes Hamlet can seem stale. This Hamlet was punk rock.
Blondell, with Lit Moon, has been working this production for over a decade. It's travelled to Canada and Europe, and will be in China this fall. This is Hamlet done right; dressed down and dirtied up to force the audience to feel the treachery and trauma of the lives destroyed in Denmark. The emotional toll refuses to abate, even in the last moments when Hamlet and Laertes destroy the final, paper barrier between the two worlds. This production channeled Denmark's suffering efficiently and honestly.