Classic Stage Company’s production of Hamlet was extraordinary. Director Austin
Pendleton took Shakespeare’s age-old prose and brought it to life with a masterpiece set, designed by Walt Spangler. This thrust theatre was decorated to suit a lavish wedding—complete with an alcove stage left equipped with a bar and a separate sitting room stage right.
Atop the reception table was a gorgeous canopy of white flowers, perfectly accented by Justin Townsend’s lighting design. Each corner of the stage was accompanied by white settees which Pendleton oft chose to place Ophelia—consistently watching the mania unfold. With this, we were transformed into a modestly modernized Hamlet. The performance itself was peppered with eerie music, designed by Ryan Rumery. The play was indeed an event, with superb blocking and never an empty glass of wine, brandy or vodka. Constance Hoffman outfitted each actor with an appropriate modern suit and gown.
Peter Sarsgaard manifested a contemptuous Hamlet. Ever sarcastic, Sarsgaard swept somewhat ancient lines into a layman’s understanding. Suddenly, the Shakespeare that crawled across our desk during high school was swept from its pages and brought to life in ways I could scarce have imagined. His stage presence was palpable and his supporting cast did not disappoint. King Claudius was played by Harris Yulin. An older gentleman, Yulin did not come to the
stage a murderer, but a loving husband. Deliberate in his speech, Yulin demonstrated a steady new king rather than a cold-blooded usurper.
His new wife, Gertrude (Penelope Allen) was the ever-attentive and loving mother.
Longing to understand Hamlet’s madness, Allen went to great depths of emotion throughout her
performance. Her tears were moving and her misunderstanding of her husband’s original
Laertes burst onto the stage, red faced and loud. Glenn Fitzgerald was entertaining where necessary and a noticeable force where essential. His chemistry with Ophelia was endearing and his connection with his own character noticeable. Lisa Joyce revealed a strange Ophelia. While we could follow Sarsgaard’s descent into psychosis, Joyce’s was abrupt. Ophelia’s fall into hysteria over her father’s death was not mis-presented by Joyce. However, its chosen direction was not as predictable and therefore mildly disjointed with the rest of the performance.
Stephen Spinella gave the audience a laughter eliciting Polonius. Spinella’s interpretation of Polonius’ character was both witty and quirky. I found my eyes often on the king’s steward, awaiting his next line and my answering laugh or smile. Hamlet’s faithful Horatio was presented by Austin Jones. The silent observer, Horatio frequented the bar and took stock of Hamlet’s story—later surviving its tale. Whereas Ophelia moved from corner to corner, Jones would float into the scene.
Daniel Morgan Shelley (Reynaldo, Guildenstern, Lucianus, Priest, Fortinbras), Scott Parkinson (Rosencrantz, Player Queen, Gravedigger) and Jim Broaddus (First Player, Player King, Captain) completed Hamlet’s cast. My personal favorite was Scott Parkinson who was a mostly silent but highly enjoyable Player Queen and Gravedigger. Jim Broaddus’ take on the First Player was superb.
Classic Stage Company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s classic was both impressive and thought provoking. Take the time to see the play, this seasoned cast reckoned a distinct interpretation of his/her character you shouldn’t miss. You can purchase tickets here! And hurry in, Hamlet will only be on the stage until May 10th!
Pictures by Carol Rosegg
Review by Alexandra Lipari