Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Mortals Theater & Brooklyn Stage Co.)

By Le-Anne
excellent & exciting stage combat • don’t let the 3 Hrs deter you, it flies by • ballsy choices that may/or may not always work • smart cuts • in Brooklyn!

BOTTOM LINE: Some interesting, fully committed, somewhat controversial choices, but all together a solid show.

Some bold choices were made in Mortals Theater and Brooklyn Stage Company’s presentation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Incest and PDA abound in this site specific production. Performed in a hallowed out bank that resembles a gated castle from the outside, and drawing from the history of this bank that died during the depression (a time when something was most certainly rotten in the state of America) the effect is successfully eerie. Shakespeare’s longest and most rebellious play in structure is handled deftly and plainly by director Robert F. Cole with some smart cuts that serve his clearly focused direction of the multi-talented cast of seventeen.

Uncut, Hamlet clips along at four hours, which by most contemporary American acting habits translates to something much closer to five hours...if you’re lucky. Cole’s Hamlet comes in at just under three hours including a generous intermission. Some typical omissions were made, for example some characters are cut including Fortinbras, a drastic foil to Hamlet and the only character to bring an outside perspective to the goings on. Anything to do with Norway was, more or less, eked out all together. Internal cuts within soliloquies and dialogue were made that, for the most part, go unnoticed unless you are a Shakespeare savant. Although I can’t help but feel that some of the cuts seem to have flattened out the character of Hamlet a little bit, such cuts are understandably necessary. Cole states that he is most interested in the idea of internal corruption and blood-lusty revenge and his choices certainly streamline to that effect.

Speaking of choices...some gutsy ones were made. While I didn’t love every choice I did love the fearlessness with which they were executed, particularly by Lilith Beitchman as Gertrude and Elizabeth Lord as Ophelia. Beitchman’s Gertrude is reminiscent of Courtney Love circa 1994 with a Sharon Stone-esque moment or two thrown in for good measure. Albeit convincingly so, Beitchman seems a bit over the top at first, however, somewhere during a particularly incestuous scene with Hamlet she surprises with a lovely vulnerable side to Gertrude that makes one think Beitchman has calculated her Gertrude as a woman who simply has no idea how, shall we say, 'F'-ed up and increasingly inappropriate she is. Lord revs up the crazy to the nth degree. Though I would have appreciated a little more variety in the direction given to her, Lord's commitment is full-force.

Cast standouts include Jared R. Pike as Osric and Matthew Pilieci as Laertes. Pike owns Osric with a unique interpretation that is consistent, pleasing to the modern palette, and he intelligently handles Shakespeare’s words. Pilieci’s sexually charged, outwardly aggressive and decisive Laertes is an excellent foil to the more brooding, inwardly obsessive, and meandering Hamlet played admirably by James Kautz. A nod should also be given to Zachary Zito, who is endearing and provides much clarity as Horatio, Lou Sones who lends a modern New York City sense of humor to Polonius, and Nate Clifford who, though he plays several smaller parts (Marcellus, Player King, and Sailor), has little to say but when he does it is clear he understands exactly what Shakespeare means by “speak the speech.”

Although I didn’t necessarily love every choice made in this production, I was far from bored. Frankly, because such strong choices were made, I’m sure that the parts I disliked someone else loved and vise versa. As Hamlet says, “I must be cruel, only to be kind.” Cole does a commendable job of telling a clear story and creating a sense of unity on stage, while the cast has a contagious energy that never drags. All in all, despite my love/hate dilemmas, it is a solid production worth the trip out to Brooklyn.

(Hamlet, Prince of Denmark plays at the Archip Gallery Theater, 498 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231, through May 24. Performance times are Thursdays - Sundays at 8pm. The show is approximately 2 hours 40 min.’s with one 15 min. intermission. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.theatermania.com or by calling 866-811-4111.)

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