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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Driven by the intelligent and passionate performance of Freddy Douglas as Hamlet, the youthful cast includes Steve Coombs as a thoughtful and loyal Horatio, Dorothea Harahan as a torn Ophelia whose pseudo sophistication ravels into madness; Matthew Jaeger as her taut brother Laertes and as Rosencrantz, Hamlet's classmate; Jacob Sidney as his pompous comrade Guildenstern. They are manipulated by and rebel against their elders and nobody shows this more clearly than Shakespeare.
The towering Francois Giroday is majestic and prodded into guilt as Claudius, Hamlet's murderous uncle. Deborah Strang is a warm and passionate Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, particularly effective in her speech describing Ophelia's drowning, devastating in its horror-stricken understatement. Tony Abatemarco imbues the counselor Polonius with a bristling energy that evokes the humor in the character while never falling into caricature.
The script has been pared down 45%, giving the play speed and power while retaining the highlights and the essence. Some actors play two roles; among them is Hamlet himself who, in one of Michetti's most inspired innovations, sees in his own reflection in the back wall's dark mirror the ghost of his father, King Hamlet. He speaks both lines and it adds a psychological dimension to the prince, which has often been speculated upon in critical literature.
Douglas finds his arc in Hamlet ranging from initial agony at the marriage of his newly widowed mother Gertrude to his uncle Claudius, to madness real and feigned after the Ghost's tale of his murder by Claudius, to the murder of Polonius and, finally, just before the final deadly duel scene, to a fatalistic maturity that shows us the king he could have been. Michetti also puts a knife constantly in Hamlet's hand which he draws repeatedly across his own arm, upping the tension and suspense.
The Player King and Queen are played by Mark Bramhall and Desmond Robertson. They surface later in the play when Robertson's pompous Priest lends a misguided gravitas to Ophelia's funeral rites and Bramhall does the play's best and much-needed comic turn as the Gravedigger, who makes death a laughing matter.
Sara Ryung Clement designed the sleek set with unique flair, with just two crystal throne chairs, tables and cubes set against a blue mirrored back wall. She also designed the costumes whose timeless influence ranges from 19th century boots for the men to elegant dress and pants with an Oriental influence for the women. Peter Gottlieb's lighting design enhances the blue quality of the set, evoking the memories, dreams, and sorrows which throng this greatest of tragedies in this most welcome revival.
This production is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation. It's an initiative sponsored by the NEA and Arts Midwest.
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