Monday, October 13, 2003

Hamlet (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

'HAMLET' somewhat unfulfilling at GLTF

Since it was first performed in 1603, ‘THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, THE PRINCE OF DENMARK’ has been credited as being the best English-language play ever written. Due to its complex themes and multi-layered text it has received a great deal of analysis. Some of that analysis, however, doesn’t agree with your high school English teacher’s view of the play’s greatness.

As T. S. Elliot once wrote, “So far from being Shakespeare's masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure. In several ways the play is puzzling, and disquieting as is none of his others. Of all his plays it is the longest and is possibly the one on which Shakespeare spent most pains; and, yet, he has left in it superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revisions should have noticed.”

Besides the play itself, the character of Hamlet is considered one of the most compelling ever written. The part has also been subjected to numerous interpretations and studies, his thoughts analyzed and reanalyzed. As with the play, there are arguments concerning the quality of the way the character is conceived. Most of Shakespeare’s major characters are clearly crafted, their motives clear...think Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Iago. This is not the case with Hamlet.

The Great Lakes Theatre Festival has decided to undertake ‘HAMLET’ as the opening show in their “new/old” schematic. GLTF has reestablished itself as a repertory company after abandoning the pattern 18 years ago. Repertory centers on hiring a company of actors who perform different plays in tandem with the performers playing different roles from night to night. For example, the same actors will appear in ‘TARTUFFE’ which opens October 18. Andrew May, who is the Ghost in ‘HAMLET’ is Orgon in ‘TARTUFFE.”

This concept is exciting for Clevelanders as Charles Fee, GLTF’s Producing Artisitc Director, has employed many local artists who have sporadically been employed since the Cleveland Play House abandoned its company of actors. It’s nice to see names like Scott Plate, Laura Perrota, Wayne Turney and Paula Duesing in the cast.

GLTF’s three-hour production lacks texturing and effective pacing. Director Fee has decided to make sure that the audience grasps each word. To achieve this he has slowed down the speech and actions which makes the production flat. It lacks excitement. This will be great for the school groups who attend as they will have no difficulty in grasping the words, but it doesn’t make for compelling theatre.

Though the audience hears the words, it is nearly impossible to feel much toward the characters, and this is a play that is character driven. Is Hamlet crazed, crazy, demented, deranged? Is he motivated to get revenge for his father’s murder or obsessed by his need for attention? What are his real feelings toward his mother? Toward Ophelia? Steve Tague, in the lead role, looking demonic with his goatee, mustache and shaggy black hair, lacks the fire to give us the needed clues. Even the famous “to be or not to be” speech lacks clarity....what’s the motivation for those words?

Wayne Turney is delightful as Polonius, the Councillor of State and later as the gravedigger. Sara Bruner’s Ophelia is beautifully vulnerable. Her underplayed crazed scene, caused by the murder of her father and rejection by Hamlet, is one of the play’s highlights. Scott Plate plays Horatio, Hamlet’s friend with compassion.

Aled Davies is not evil enough as Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and killer of his father. We need to hate him, he gives us no reason to react to him in a negative way.

Fee’s use of music to highlight scenes and the creative use of scenic staging devices are excellent. Rick Martin’s lighting and Gage Williams sets enhance the mood of the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK’ at GLTF lacks the excitement, pacing and clarity needed to make this a major classic production.