BWW Review: Vivid, powerful HAMLET at Contemporary Theater Company
The Contemporary Theater Company has mounted a dazzling production of Shakespeare's tale of tragic retribution, with an outstanding cast, deft and innovative direction, and a stunning set. Get thee to Wakefield, and quickly, too, to see this brilliant show.
You remember the plot from high school: Hamlet, the prince of Denmark (Tammy Brown) is visited by their father's ghost who urges revenge on his brother, Claudius (Matt Fraza) who murdered him (and married Hamlet's mother, Gertrude (MJ Daly) with unseemly haste.) Already depressed, Hamlet feigns madness to confuse Claudius about his plans, but only succeeds in alienating would-be lover Ophelia (Artemis Kassabian) and hapless former friends Rosencrantz (Rebecca Magnotta) and Guildenstern (Laura Kennedy). Things go terribly awry (starting with the accidental murder of Ophelia's father, Polonius (Michael Alper), and amid a stage littered with corpses, only Horatio (Sophia Pearson) lives to tell the tale.
Director Christopher Simpson has created a crisp, compelling Hamlet, solidly in period, yet perfectly accessible to 21st-Century audiences. Every line is delivered with a comprehension that projects clarity; rarely has the Bard been more surely staged.
And the stage itself -- designed by Magnotta -- is a key element of the production: A narrow walkway featuring a central ramp running down the middle of the CTC's black box that puts the audience on either side, something Simpson takes full advantage of in staging that keeps the actors in motion (and cleverly enacts Hamlet's vacillation.) And the set is flat-out gorgeous; faux painted marble that is breathtaking and absolutely appropriate.
Tammy Brown was born to play Hamlet. Her command of the role is absolute: every vocal inflection, every purposeful movement, every tiny bit of business with her hands as she watches some other action, all is inhabited by a sense of weighty reality. The role poses a serious challenge to any actor, requiring as it does the ability to portray the complexity of multi-leveled "madness," both the underlying depression and the theatrical excess intended to throw off the King. Brown delivers flawlessly.
As does the rest of the cast. Anyone who saw the CTC's production last year of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" will not be surprised at the amazing chemistry among Brown, Magnotta, and Kennedy, all reprising their roles (Indeed, I left that show hoping to see the three together in a full production of Hamlet; clearly, not the only one with that idea.) The whole ensemble provides a parade of beautiful moments: Daly's eye-opening discovery as Brown recounts the ghostly visitation, Kassabian's tragic descent into melancholy, the superbly executed "play within the play" that snaps Fraza out of his sense of security. Not a flat spot to be found; start to finish, the pacing is tight without ever being rushed.
And a word about the incidental music is in order. Music director Cynthia Burke and Jenny Collins provide a subtle, supporting soundtrack that never overpowers the action; indeed, like a good film score, you barely even notice that its happening other than to note how it punches up the scene. It's one of the things that the CTC has always done well.
This is a production of Hamlet that will surprise, delight, and move you. Even those who find Elizabethan language offputting should have no fear. This is Shakespeare as he was meant to be played: with confidence, energy, humor, and deep humanity.
Hamlet, directed by Christopher Simpson, at the Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main St. Wakefield, RI. Performances: Oct 25-26, Nov 2, 7-9, 14-16 at 7 pm, and Nov 3, 10 at 2 pm. Tickets: Adult - $25, 25 & Under - $15, Senior Sundays - $18 at http://contemporarytheatercompany.com or 401-218-0282. For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy Seth Jacobson Photography.