BWW Review: Prague Shakespeare Company's HAMLET Does it Solo at Main Street Theatre
Since 2012 Main Street Theater has partnered with the Prague Shakespeare Company (PSC) to bring some of its outstanding productions here to Houston. This year's offering is a one man take on HAMLET where artistic director Guy Roberts performs one of Shakespeare's best known pieces solo. I don't know whether to call him a lunatic or artistic visionary, but he is certainly both. This is the kind of narcissistic bravado that makes men like Ross Perot or Michael Bloomberg run for President. He has adapted the script to a tight 90 minutes, and decided to direct himself for the production. What sounds like it could be a really tragic acting class assignment ends up a wonderful way to mine the literary treasures of HAMLET all over again. Guy Roberts rises above the madness to deliver a transfixing performance that engages far more than expected.
Guy Roberts is well-known to Houston audiences having won awards for his work here through the exchange with Prague Shakespeare Company. He is a master of the craft, and possesses a unique charisma audiences eat up. He becomes the brooding Dane of Hamlet easily, and handles the famous sequences such as "To be or not to be" and "Alas, poor Yorick" with an instinctive grace. It's all second nature to him and honestly no surprise there. Wherein lies the rub is that he manages to pull off over 17 other characters in the show including Ophelia and Getrude with nary a hitch. He does all of this wearing only a Henry Rollins uniform of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. He further emulates punk poet with his buff physique that proves Elsinore must at least be adjacent to a Gold's gym. He transitions in and out of characters at a dizzying speed, sometimes signaling a switch of a persona with a vocal exercise or a shift in posture. He clips through the show at a very fast pace forcing the audience to engage with him and concentrate.
Guy avoids falling into a trap many actors would easily fall into - making the characters extreme and totally identifiable through caricature. Rather he only offers subtle variations, and sometimes the audience loses themselves in the script not sure who is speaking. This becomes more a virtue than a fault as it forces us to look at HAMLET linguistically for a change. We have no set to distract, no costumes to eyeball, no group of actors to examine, but rather one voice and the word. That is the true genius of this production - allowing us to examine such a well known work only from one angle. There is no significant tech to mention other than a well thought out light plan, rear projections of words, and well timed audio cues that help further the narrative.
This is HAMLET like you have never seen before - performed by a handsome stranger who is hellbent on turning Shakespeare's longest work into a 90 minute aria. In concept it sounds dicey, but in execution it works surprisingly well. It's interesting, entertaining, sexy, and in the end revelatory. What you learn about language makes it well worth the trip to see a buff bearded bald guy rumble through iambic pentameter refrains we all know so well. It listens to few, but will speak to many.
Hamlet runs through January 19: Thursdays - Sundays at 7:30pm plus Sundays at 3:00pm at Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd. Tickets are $36 - $55, depending on date and section, and are on sale via phone at (713) 524-6706 or online at MainStreetTheater.com.
Photo provided by Pin Lim Photography