There are as many Hamlets as there are actors with thoughts to put in him, imagination to give him shape, or time to act him in. And he is so very complex, that, no matter how successful the actor, we can absolutely believe none of them. Yet, errant knaves all, we will try and try again. Hamlet is one of the most produced plays in the entire history of theatre, and, with Oedipus Rex, arguably the finest tragedy ever written.
These plays contront a fundamental question, perhaps THE fundamental question: Why is it that this beautiful world, so perfect, so wonderful, so majestic, is so fundamentally wrong? Bad things happen. People suffer and are cruel to one another. In spite of all the good in the world, fate piles upon us one tragedy after another. Something is rotten.
And if one is a Prince or a King, one must assume responsibility for setting things right for the people. But how, anyone would certainly ask. And if one is young Prince Hamlet, there is the even more pressing question: “Why even bother?”
Hamlet is the story of a young man who, confronted with evil in the world, sets out to both understand and correct it. Of course, this is madness. But is Hamlet truly mad? Or just, as he says, only “north-north-west,” still sane when “the wind is southerly.”
The story told about this perhaps mad and insanely ambitious Prince, who thinks he is born to “set [the world] aright” is wildy suspenseful and entertaining. It has murder, and a ghost, love affairs, evil enemies, war, death, and philosophy. All of this told in an outpouring of some of the greatest poetry every written.
It has been said (rightly I think) that there is so much that is fascinating in Hamlet, it is almost impossible for any production to completely fail. The play is just that good. Having seen close to a dozen stage productions, and an equal number of films, I am inclined to agree. There are Hamlets and better Hamlets, but rarely a bad Hamlet.
The Hamlet currently presented by Marin Shakespeare Company, outdoors at the lovely Foreast Meadows Amphitheatre, falls somewhere the middle. Neither soaring to the greatest heights, or wallowing in confusion, the company tells the story with impressive clarity, and everything moves along quickly. This is an athletic, exciting Hamlet, easy to follow. The actors may not draw out all the beauty of the poetry, but they never bore us. Occasionally, Director Robert Currier has called upon his actors to indicate a bit too much to be sure we get every point. Personally, I don’t think every sexual refererence requires grabbing a crotch, or making an obscene gesture to make sure that it is not missed. Elizabethan ribaldry is given, perhaps, more attention in this production than is truly warranted.
And on to the performances. Nate Currier is an admirable Hamlet. He does a good job of capturing Hamlet’s quicksilver personality, and his adolescent angst. He is wonderful in his first scene with Horatio, so puzzled at hearing of his father’s ghost that he makes fun of the idea. He is no fool. Although depressed from the beginning, he is only gradually drawn into madness (his own? the world’s?) and Currier does a fine job of showing us how Hamlet dives into desperate confusion and suicidal depression before finding himself in the end.
Of the remaining cast, Brennan Pickman-Thoon is a standout as Hamlet’s friend and confidante, Horatio. He is an almost constant presence on stage, always paying the closest and most sympathetic attention. His love for his friend is palpable, and when he rushes to kill himself when it is clear Hamlet will die, we believe him. It is a great moment, and we feel the burden to which he bends when Hamlet insists he stay behind to tell the world the truth.
As Ophelia, Ralida Friedenberg is most successful in her scenes with Hamlet, which are excellent. Barry Kraft does well in multiple roles, including the Ghost of Hamlet’s father and the comical Gravedigger. As King Claudius, Rod Gnapp wields power with frightening authority. Arven Anderson suggests depths to Gertude that are often missed, and seems to be aware of much more than she lets on. Laertes is often played with straightforward conventionality, but Hunter Scott MacNair gives him an appealing and off-beat personality.
The character of Osiric, one of Shakespeare’s most flamboyant fops, is overplayed by Braden Youngberg. The actor seems to have been encouraged to present a caricature rather than a real person trying to survive a difficult situation with courtly manners. But Shakespeare didn’t write caricatures.
Overall, this is a Hamlet that holds plenty of interest and delivers the story with clarity and enthusiasm.
Get thee to the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican College in San Rafael. You’ll find it, oddly enough, on campus, just across the way from the nunnery.
“Hamlet” continues through July 8th at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican College in San Rafael. For further information, click here.
Rating: *** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. Produced by Marin Shakespeare Company. Director: Robert Currier. Costume Design: Tammy Berlin. Fight Director: Richard Pallaziol. Lighting Designer: April George. Props Designer: Joel Elis. Set Designer: Jackson Courrier. Sound Designer/Composer: Billie Cox.
Claudius: Rod Gnapp. Gertrude: Arven Anderson. Hamlet: Nate Currier. Spirit of Hamlet’s Dead Father/First Player/First Gravedigger: Barry Kraft. Polonius; Steve Price. Ophelia: Ralia Friedenberg. Laertes: Hunter Scott MacNair. Horatio: Brennan Pickman-Thoon. Rosencrantz: Robyn Grahn. Guildenstern: Ariel Zuckerman. Marcllus: Daniel Wallach. Osiric: Braden Youngberg.