Shakespeare’s HAMLET is so ubiquitous that it seems amazing that there are still so many unexplored ways to present this story of revenge of the Prince of Denmark. Yet, the Old Globe brings a smart, imaginative, and powerful version to their San Diego stage that you don’t want to miss.
Grantham Coleman carries the title role and he is excellent and eloquent as the Prince of Denmark. As he gets ever increasingly committed to his quest of vengeance for his father’s death, Coleman gets increasingly complex and intense as he moves from melancholy to mania. His suffering comes from love and loss, his beloved father is lost to him thanks to his uncle to whom his mother is married. He doesn’t know who to trust, including his sweetheart Ophelia. All actions seem suspicious and his divergent reactions range from contemplative, to full of rage, to practically possessed as he twitches and contorts.
Talley Beth Gale is striking as Ophelia goes from capable and obedient young noble woman to a broken girl singing bawdy lyrics in a shift and bare feet.
Patrick Kerr is once again a bright spot in a Globe Shakespeare production as he brings a sense of humor to his Polonius who delivers borrowed advice to his son as he proclaims “neither a borrower nor lender be” while borrowing this expertise as he reads these teachings from a book, and is thoroughly over Hamlet’s obsession with his daughter Ophelia.
Cornell Womack may be a villain as Claudius, but he is a multifaceted one who seems to actually love his wife, acknowledges his dastardly deeds, and his difficulty in repenting them. Opal Alladin is a compassionate Gertrude, and though she may not have looked too hard at the circumstances until too late, she makes decisive action when everything falls into place for her.
Ian Lassiter is a calm, collected, and steadfast Horatio, even in the face of these crazy events and actions. Jonny Orsini is a justifiably concerned and baffled Laertes as he comes home to find his family in ruins. Kevin Hafso-Koppman and Nora Carroll add an additional shot of fun and friendship as the perpetual audience favorites Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Many productions of this show focus on the philosophical and existential theme, which can lead to a more mopey and introspective version of the play. Refreshingly this one takes on a much more interesting view, and embraces madness in a “through the looking glass” way that uses it to show this increasing confusion as Hamlet tries to expand his perspective of everything around him and in doing so loses all perspective on reality. As the Cheshire Cat explains “We’re all mad here” to Alice, it feels like this applies to this visit to Denmark as well.
The costumes by Cait O’Connor, are gorgeous, full of vibrant colors, with large skirts, sparkles, feathers, and drama. When King Claudius and Queen Gertrude appear they could have walked right out of a fantastical production of Alice in Wonderland -everything is just a bit askew, too colorful, and slightly out of place for a kingdom just a month out from burying their former ruler.
The set by Tim Mackabee is dominated by a giant suit, the only real grounding element that provides the focus is protecting the King. Accompanied by moveable towers and scaffolding that gives a sense of the mental chess game that is playing out between Hamlet and everyone else.
Directed by the Globe’s Artistic Director Barry Edelstein, he finds ways to inject humor into this tragedy. He keeps the three hour show moving at a brisk pace while keeping this show absorbing and rich as the antics and the madness escalates; there is not enough time for the audience to become restless.
It is Coleman’s performance that truly makes this production riveting as Hamlet tries and fails to find justice while navigating the line between actual and affected madness.
Alas, poor Hamlet, his mind was not strong enough to carry the burden of his tortured soul.
HAMLET is playing through September 10th at the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. For tickets and show times for to www.theoldglobe.org or call 619-234-5623