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A CurtainUp Review
Hamlet: Uncut!

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. .— Polonius
Hamlet Uncut
John Paul Harkins as Horatio & Thomas Leverton as Hamlet
(Photo credit: Jessica Jennings)
Following what goes on in Hamlet is easy when the plot has been streamlined for popular taste. But watching the American Theatre of Actors’ new uncut version of Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece,you may discover that the play you thought you knew like the back of your hand is more Hydra-headed. This 4-hour presentation, aptly named Hamlet: Uncut!, is a bit tough to sit through, but it is a rare opportunity to see Hamlet in its epic-like grandeur.

If you have been spoiled by shortened versions of the play (Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet omits the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Fortinbras story), you may be baffled at times during this unedited text production. Here Director James Jennings fully confronts the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Fortinbras story with its political intrigues, and all of Hamlet’s great monologues. True, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version similarly took the ";uncut" approach. But Jennings, operating on a shoestring budget couldn't “wow” the audience with any fancy cinematic sequencesas Branagh did. His production is completely no-frills. What’s more, it unfolds in real time.

Besides the attenuated length, you will recognize that each turn of plot touches on one of the major themes: sex and death, power and politics, pretended and actual madness. Since there’s no cutting away of anything, you will ample time to reflect on questions of plot that might never have occurred to you in more compact productions —. for example, why is Hamlet of Act 5 so much “lighter” than theHamlet of earlier acts? And why does Hamlet fail miserably as a politician, where Fortinbras, a lesser figure, triumphs? This Hamlet may not be a breeze to sit through, but it definitely summons the big questions to mind. Inevitably, it will make you realize that it's impossible to discuss one part of the play without the other.

The production moves with ease thanks to James Jenings’s minimalist set design, with a highly-effective use of an upper balcony that frames the performing space. In fact, most of the Ghost scenes play out in this upper balcony space, allowing the apparition to come and go with supernatural smoothness. Joan Chamber’s full Renaissance costumes are sumptuous, and ideally balance Craig Napoliello’s austere set.

Though the momentum is impressive momentum, the acting is uneven. Fortunately,Thomas Leverton in the title role is superb. He has the necessary Shakespearean chops to deliver all of his lines (By some scholars count, that’s a hefty 1,438 lines!). His full-throated rendering of the monologues pulls you into the mind and heart of the melancholy Prince. Leverton is also convincing when he “puts on an antic disposition.”

There are other characters that are notably performed. Jessica Jennings portrays Ophelia with a fine delicacy. Jane Culley exudes an aristocratic hauteur as Gertrude. John Paul Harkins, as Horatio, is solid . The other less accomplished actors , however, often seem to be merely mouthing their lines.

In its best moments, this production it reminds you that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a sort of riverbed where mighty ideas can flow. And At $18 a ticket, it's certainly affordable.


Hamlet: Uncut!
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by James Jennings
Cast: Thomas Leverton (Hamlet), Jessica Jennings (Ophelia), W. Griffith Barker (Ghost), Vincent Bivona (Rosencrantz), Jane Culley (Gertrude), Sergio Diaz (Lucianus, a Gravedigger), Garrett Dill (Laertes), Armand Eisen (Player King, Priest, English Ambassador), William Greville (Polonius, Gravedigger), John Paul Harkins (Horatio), Alan Hasnas (Claudius), Vincent Iannuzzi (Francisco, Reynaldo, Guildenstern), Jason Morris (Player Queen, Captain, Osric), Chris Spurrier (Voltemand,Fortinbras, Messenger).
Sets: James Jennings
Costumes: Joan Chambers
Fight Choreograph, designer and production assistant: James Jennings
American Theatre of Actors at the Chenurchin Theatre, at 314 West 54th Street (Between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Tickets: $18 F at 212/868-4444
Opening 1/25/12; closing 2/12/12.
Wednesday through Saturday @ 7:30pm. No performances on Thursdays February 2 or 9. Sunday matinees on January 29, February 5 and 12 at 3pm.
Running time: 4 hours with a 10 minute intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/25/12
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