Review Roundup: Sam Gold Brings HAMLET to The Public Theater

By: Jul. 13, 2017
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The Public Theater presents Hamlet as part of its downtown summer season, featuring Golden Globe Award winner Oscar Isaac as the tormented Danish Prince. Directed by Tony Award winner Sam Gold, the production held its opening night tonight and the critics were in attendance.

The cast of Hamlet features Roberta Colindrez (Rosencrantz); Peter Friedman (Polonius); Oscar Isaac(Hamlet); Keegan-Michael Key(Horatio); Gayle Rankin (Ophelia, Second Gravedigger); Matthew Saldívar (Guildenstern); and Anatol Yusef(Laertes).

"Oscar Isaac starred in the first show I produced at the Delacorte, Two Gents in the summer of 2005. His Romeo two years later was more proof of his brilliance," said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. "Sam Gold's production of Fun Home was one of the most extraordinary directorial feats I've ever produced. The prospect of the two of them collaborating on what is arguably the greatest play ever written is joyous."

Oscar Isaac returns to The Public in this electrifyingly intimate new production of Shakespeare's eternal drama. Isaac is the prince caught between thought and action, anger and anguish as his uncle assumes the throne left vacant by his murdered father. As the dead king calls to him from the grave, demanding to be avenged, Hamlet is forced to choose between bearing the oppressor's wrong or taking arms against a sea of troubles. Tony Award winner Sam Gold directs theater's most powerful tragedy about life and death, madness and conscience, and corruption-of the state and of the soul.

HAMLET features scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Kaye Voyce; lighting design by Mark Barton; sound design by Bray Poor; and musical direction, composition, and performance by cellist Ernst Reijseger.

Let's see what the critics have to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Who's afraid of "Hamlet"? Certainly not the director Sam Gold, whose gloriously involving new production at The Public Theater treats Shakespeare's daunting tragedy with an easy, jokey familiarity that's usually reserved for siblings and longtime drinking buddies. As in such relationships, Mr. Gold and his top-flight cast - led by a majestically impudent Oscar Isaac in the title role - tease and tweak the object of their affections, which happens to be the best-known play in English literature and one of the knottiest. But that's because the creative team here obviously knows and loves its "Hamlet" so very well.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Staged in modern dress with a cast of nine on a minimal set-its biggest indulgence is a bathroom where Ophelia (Gayle Rankin, finding depth in the character's passivity) goes to sulk-Gold's Hamlet forsakes grandeur in favor of small moments of clarity. Its focus is on theatricality, comedy and language; it keeps long speeches about the Trojan War, for example, but cuts the invading army of Fortinbras. There is singing, an onstage cellist and some choice overwrought-death-scene clowning from Keegan-Michael Key(who also plays Horatio).

Marylin Stasio, Variety: Oscar Isaac's Hamlet is to die for, but director Sam Gold's bizarre "Hamlet" is to shoot on sight. Shakespeare has always been an accommodating chap; whatever interpretative indignities directors have inflicted on him over the years, he survives and often grows from the experience. This is not the case with Gold's hammy production at the Public Theater, which is as pointless as it is solipsistic.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: Let's get the banner news out of the way up front: Oscar Isaac is a sensational Hamlet. Whether communing with the ghost of his murdered father, aghast at the treachery of his uncle and the fickle allegiance of his mother, or bounding about in his underwear feigning insanity while plotting his revenge, he inhabits the role like a fever - bristling with raw emotion, anxious energy and mercurial intelligence. That his performance registers so effectively is an additional credit to Isaac, given how many obstacles director Sam Gold throws in his way in a gimmicky modern-dress production that often seems more WTF-perverse than audacious.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Thoughtful, self-possessed and charismatically morose, Oscar Isaac inhabits Shakespeare's melancholy prince as naturally as the sweater he wraps himself in. This youthful Hamlet is most compelling during soliloquies as familiar to us as speech itself, delivered in the hushed cadence of prayers seeking grace, and perhaps deliverance out of the nightmare that has brought him home to Elsinore from college to see his mother marry the uncle who's murdered his revenge-demanding father.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: So if you require men in tights and gorgeous vowels and dissertation-caliber deconstructions of Hamlet's relationship with his mother, I urge you - no, I beg you - come nowhere within 1,000 feet of The Public Theater right now. Because director Sam Gold's exuberantly inventive, everything-plus-the-bathroom-sink version of Shakespeare's glorious tragedy, with the magnetic Oscar Isaac in the title role, will drive you completely up the shattered fourth wall.

Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Daily News: That is the question that occurred to me during the confounding and enervating "Hamlet" - a nearly 4-hour endurance test that flops, even with a great Oscar Isaac persuasively pouring his heart out as the depressed Dane. It's not that this modern-dress take on Shakespeare's masterwork is too long. That's a given. So it's superfluous - though cute - when Keegan-Michael Key, who plays Hamlet's pal Horatio and other roles, gives a pre-show speech telling theatergoers to "call the babysitter." What makes the production at The Public Theater through Sept. 3 such a long sit is that beyond strong work by Isaac and others in the cast, there's so little takeaway in this staging by in-demand director Sam Gold.

Matt Windman, Newsday: What is the most bizarre moment in director Sam Gold's experimental and extremely playful staging of "Hamlet," which just opened at The Public Theater and has already sold out its limited run? There are so many to choose from: Hamlet strutting around without pants, Polonius giving orders while sitting on the toilet, the tender embrace between Hamlet and Claudius at their deaths, and Ophelia and Polonius (covered in dirt, lying with a garden hose, dead) suddenly morphing into the gravediggers. This production of Shakespeare's timeless revenge tragedy is also unusually long (running just under 4 hours), stripped down (with nine actors in street clothes and minimal scenic design), and intimate (with the audience in a three-quarter seating configuration).

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: This production is distinguished by a bracing tour de force performance of Isaac, whose movies include 2013's Inside LleWyn Davies, criminally robbed at the Oscars, Ex Machina, and playing Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the forthcoming The Last Jedi. He revealed recently in the New York Times that he had read Hamlet to his mother Eugenia as she lay gravely ill; she died in February. "It's for my mom that I'm doing it," he said of this production of Hamlet. "It's to honor her life, but also her death, which was so awful." He named his son Eugene, born in April, after her.

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