BWW Review: Spare and Strong HAMLET at TAM
Maine's Theater at Monmouth appropriately celebrates its 50th season by mounting a spare, strong, intense, and updated production of the play often thought of as the pinnacle of Shakespeare's achievement: HAMLET. Set in 1958 in Chicago and loosely inspired by MAD MEN and the African-American publishing giant John H. Johnson, this attractive, elegant, and intimate take on this quintessential domestic drama scores many poignant an powerful moments.
Director Dawn McAndrews presents the work with a number of judicious cuts that not only trim the length to contemporary audience tastes, but also eliminate some of the obligatory trappings of royalty and external political intrigue, choosing to focus, rather, on the family and gender politics of the very dysfunctional Elsinore clan. To be sure, this is a drama of ambition, deceit, treachery, lust, and, yes, love - often misconstrued and cruel. Most of all, it is a searing coming of age story about a young man who must reckon not only with the loss of his father, but with the perceived and imagined betrayals by those close to him, and who must navigate this dangerous existential course alone.
In keeping with this take on the play, McAndrews and her cast tone down the rhetoric and scale of the physical performances, opting for a quiet - and effective - intimacy in delivery of the text and in staging and movement. This HAMLET has a conversational, introspective tone that - while it may eschew the high-tension dramatic climaxes - does find the subtler interior ones. Staging is fluid, and with help from Robert Najarian as fight choreographer, the closing scene plays tightly.
Set Designer Jim Alexander (Rebecca Richards, Props) uses the familiar swiveling panels with their 50s patterning to create several locales, complemented by a few chrome and metal pieces of post war modern furniture. Gertrude's boudoir with an attractive chaise and matching arras have an especially elegant look. Lighting Designer Jennifer Fok assists in maintaining the fluidity of the action, and Rew Tippin turns in an especially fine sound design with its soft underscoring of often disquieting music and sound and in the skillful distortion of the ghost's voice. Elizabeth Rocha's costumes are especially attractive - period silhouettes in soft neutrals and blush tones, with the obligatory black for Hamlet.
In the title role Jaron Crawford gives a compelling performance - all pent-up feline energy and angst. This Hamlet is clearly a young man, negotiating the challenges of his station, and of finding his place and meaning in the world. He is winning in his moments of friendship with Horatio, vulnerable in his interaction with his father's shade, conflicted with Ophelia and his mother, and haughty and dismissive with Polonius. He is also a prince whose madness is never really more than a guise - part of an arsenal of coping devices. His delivery of the text has freshness and variety without histrionics, and he makes the audience care about the character. In sum, this is a Hamlet, who is believably - tragically - modern in his dilemma.
Outstanding are Lawrence James as Claudius and Amber Baldwin as Gertrude. They cut an elegant, regal, and troubled pair, whose misdeeds shape the spiraling consequences of the tale. James, in particular, has a mellifluous voice and a creamy, yet sometimes creepy delivery of lines that underscores perfectly the duplicitousness of the character. And the choice to allow him to double as his brother-ghost works very well, indeed! Mark S. Cartier downplays Polonius' comic qualities, making him, instead, less a bumbling fool and more a pedestrian, self-pleased court functionary. Caitlin Duffy gives a nice hint of unhappy rebelliousness to Ophelia and delivers a touching mad scene, (though her portrayal of Young Osric is directed to miss the foppish comedy of Shakespeare's original). Quinn Corcoran and Robbie Harrison play Guildenstern and Rosencrantz as petty thugs, adding an edge of danger and justifying their demise in the plot. Robert Najarian is a noble Laertes and, together with Kara Green, make an effective Player King and Queen. Green, as Horatio, manages to deliver a touching portrait of friendship - and in this case, having the Hamlet-Horatio relationship be a male/female friendship with a great deal of respect and equality lends an modern and moving touch. To give the final lines and image to the Hamlet-Horatio pair in Pietà embrace is a fine finish.
Making maximum use of its resources and talents, the Theater at Monmouth has put together a season under the moniker of "What Dreams May Come..." Allusion s to HAMLET aside, these dreams are surely hopes for a continued success as the company celebrates its golden anniversary of bringing Shakespeare, classic, and contemporary plays to Maine. May the next fifty years continue the journey!
Photos courtesy of TAM, Aaron Flacke, photographer
TAM runs a season in repertoire from June 22 - September 22, 2019 at historic Cumson Hall, 796 Maine St., Monmouth, Maine 207-933-9999 theateratmonmouth.org