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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
For much of the play, however, Saxe invigorates Hamlet with a compulsive restlessness that suggests that the intellectually tormented prince may be as fortified by generous belts of Cherry Heering as he is by his equally dependable bouts with suspicion and revenge. That this provides an unexpected side to this young man who has remained one of dramatic literature's most enigmatic protagonists isn't such a bad thing. This Hamlet offers the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy contemplatively sitting down, an interesting choice.
The other famous soliloquies, notably "Oh, that this too too solid flesh" and "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I" are spoken with a restraint that suggests Hamlet's sly and willful disposition. Generally speaking, Saxe, under Monte's watchful eye, careens through his procrastinations dressed in black and without a trace of his presumed melancholia. There is instead an off kilter playfulness in his portrayal that understandably makes those around him oblivious to his plans.
However, the road to tragedy for Hamlet and those around him is not only paved with foreboding, but also with a few stumbling blocks. Hamlet's distrust of and disillusion with Ophelia (Lauren English), and his discovery of the intentions of Rosencrantz (Gene Gillette) and Guildenstern (Michael Stewart Allen) seem genuinely influenced by his suspicions of deception.
The undercurrent of doom and gloom may still be perceived by those who choose to delve deeply into William Shakespeare's famed tragedy. Monte also gets credit for designing the simple but effective unit setting notable for a central parapet that is lifted and lowered by chains and a free standing arras. The Danish court assembles when summoned to remind us that the rottenness that pervades Denmark isn't confined to any century as long as there's a monarch around willing to act rotten.
To this end we have Cuccioli's charismatically sinister performance as King Claudius, a "king of shred and patches," whose virile countenance makes him the production's most formidable presence. It is easy to see how Queen Gertrude (Jacqueline Antaramian) has been seduced and duped by her brother-in-law. If Antaramian's contribution is oddly negligible, there is an even odder consideration given to Ms. English's extremely healthy looking Ophelia who is, nevertheless, obliged to go off her rocker wearing only a girdle and panties encircled with ridiculous dress hoops.
Not being confined to a particular century, costume designer Hugh Hanson has the men in tights, fur trimmed hats and coats and the two women in attractive 19th century gowns. Not something to overlook is that everyone speaks the blank verse and prose with skill and understanding.
John Hickok is fine enough even if doesn't quite mine all the wit and humor in Polonius's famed advice to his son and others as have others. Standouts playing multiple roles are Ames Adamson (as the Player King and gravedigger) and Jason Edward Bobb (as gravedigger, and Player Queen). The duel scene, with its gathered nobility, is realistic and quite thrilling helped by the fine work of fight director Rick Sordelet. Recorded voices of the Harmonium Choral Society lend some effective, eerily atmospheric background to the dark doings at Elsinore Castle.
The perennial wonder of Hamlet is that it gives the actor, as well as the director, choices. In a recent phone chat with director Monte she said, "I don't think Hamlet's dilemma is his inability to act. Rather he proceeds with reason, but in a situation so complicated that he is unsure how to act. He delays until he can come up with the right answer. " To be sure, Monte has guided this Hamlet toward an answer that, as expected, will likely beg another question.