BWW Review: Marvelous HAMLET at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a uniquely engaging and compelling presentation of one of Shakespeare's finest plays with their current production of HAMLET. So many great lines that have become a part of our language are present here, and it's really amazing to think that the Rep hasn't staged this show until now. I think that just makes it all the more special, especially since director Paul Mason Barnes, who has an undeniable talent for interpreting the Bard, brings his vision to the project. Purists may quibble with it, but I found this staging utterly remarkable. Some people prefer their Shakespeare straight up, no chaser. But I've always found his canon to be extremely malleable; no matter how much you tinker with certain aspects, the powerful and poetic text will always shine through. Now, a lot has been cut to keep the show to a reasonable length (three hours split over two acts; we're not Elizabethan audiences, after all), but they're not things that are central to the plot and, overall, this trimming adds momentum, as well as ratcheting up the tension. I wholeheartedly recommend this production, and I think it's an example of must-see theater performed at its highest level.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is filled with a brooding mix of anger and despair after his father is killed, and the throne, and his mother, usurped by his Uncle Claudius. A meeting with his father's ghost confirms what he already suspects, and sets him on a ruthless and cunning course of revenge. He makes clever use of a traveling troupe, having them perform a specially written piece for the King and Queen that is intended to mimic the circumstances surrounding his father's murder. Hamlet's hope is that it may provoke a guilt-ridden response from Claudius and, sure enough, his outrage provides sufficient evidence for Hamlet to continue with his own murderous plan. But there are further bloody twists ahead and, by the end, there will only be a few left standing in the wake of the events that transpire.
Jim Poulos brings something slightly wacky and different to his exceptional performance as Hamlet. It's a surprisingly off-beat portrayal that's even a bit comical at times, perhaps a reflection of the madness in Hamlet's method. But the humorous moments only appear to mask his deeper resolve to see justice served. The characterization is still angst-ridden, introspective, and tortured, but Poulos makes his Hamlet seem vibrantly emboldened as well, with a renewed sense of purpose as a result of his ghostly encounter, and you're with him all the way. Michael James Reed is splendidly despicable as Claudius, and you do root for him to receive his just desserts. Kim Wong brings depth to the confused and heartbroken Ophelia, and Christopher Gerson is also quite good as Hamlet's friend and sympathizer, Horatio. Robynn Rodriguez is properly duplicitous as Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, and Jeffrey Cummings pulls double duty as the creepy, ghostly, visage of the dead King, as well as the very fortunate Fortinbras. In fact, the entire supporting cast is excellent.
Paul Mason Barnes delivers a well-crafted and fresh version of HAMLET that's very nicely paced. His work with the actors and actresses pays off in performances that are all superbly conceived and executed. Michael Ganio's scenic design brings scope while remaining distinctly stark, with but a few key elements for delineation, and Dorothy Marshall Englis' costumes are an eclectic mix of styles from different eras, because this is, after all, a "play for the ages." I enjoyed the mashup of different looks and textures. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's lighting design adds immeasurably to the overall atmosphere, and so does Barry G. Funderburg's compositions and sound design. Paul Dennhardt delivers marvelous work as fight director.
The Repertory Theatre of St.. Louis has given us a terrific production of HAMLET that should not be missed. This is a classic tragedy brilliantly realized for a modern audience to enjoy. Catch it through November 5, 2017 at the Loretto-Hilton.