by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach
June 30-September 23
Everyone knows that Hamlet
is one of the all-time great plays. But when you’re lucky
enough to get a production of it this good, you realize just how
superior it is to whatever might be in second place.
Director Dean Paul Gibson goes for a clean, unadorned look and
style, and a formidable pace. He stages the play in the round in
the intimacy of Bard’s small tent with seating only three
rows deep. There’s no scenery on Kevin McAllister’s
bare oval platform stage, painted the red and white of the Danish
flag, over and around which the action flows non-stop.
Mara Gottler dresses the actors in contemporary business suits
or combat gear with everyone in black or gray but Ophelia, who wears
white. Apart from Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe’s electronic
sound effects, there are no attempts to play up the modern angle—nobody
says “dude” or uses a cellphone.
Gibson and his sterling cast resist every temptation to showboat.
Andrew Wheeler’s Claudius, for instance, is not a monster,
just a man. There’s nothing lascivious in his relationship
with Gertrude (Colleen Wheeler). The most they do is hold hands,
which is enough to send Hamlet reeling. Nor does Hamlet’s
relationship with his mother need any oedipal overtones to make
their physical confrontation after the Mousetrap play astonishingly
powerful. Even David Marr’s Polonius, tip-toeing along the
edge of funny-voiced caricature, manages to maintain a realistic,
This straightforward approach accentuates the effectiveness of
the stylized elements. When the Ghost first appears on the ramparts
he’s invisible to us, making his leap out of the grave to
confront Hamlet doubly intense. As Ghost and Player, Russell Roberts
is superb. As the Gravedigger, he’s involved in the show’s
most visually exciting moment when Ophelia, in the wedding dress
she might have worn to marry Hamlet, walks into her grave in a beautiful
ghoulish ballet. The stunning Moya O’Connell may be the best
Ophelia I’ve yet seen.
Then there’s Bob Frazer’s marvelous Hamlet. Frazer’s
boy-next-door good looks and sweet-natured manner make him immediately
sympathetic. He’s young, this Prince, not especially brooding
or deep. In fact he barely scratches the surface of some of his
early soliloquies—“O that this too too solid flesh would
melt,” “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I.”
But like Hamlet, Frazer grows into his tragic role. He’s
brilliant when he lets himself go: the “nunnery” scene
with Ophelia, like the closet scene with Gertrude, is breathtaking,
almost unbearable. But he also learns to find a contained dignity
in his bitter baiting of ex-friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
(Stephen Holmes and Haig Sutherland) and his apology to Laertes
(Michael Scholar, Jr.) shortly before they kill each other in Nick
Harrison’s magnificently choreographed duel.
If you see only one play this summer, be sure to make it Bard
on the Beach’s Hamlet.