Saturday, January 7, 2012

NWCTC's Hamlet (5 January 2012)

How does one take what could very well be the best-known play in the English language and make it fresh and vibrant and vivid?

By sticking to the script.

Hamlet doesn’t need gimmicks. It doesn’t need innovation or concepts or rediscovery.

It needs actors who know it and love it, actors who breathe life into those incessantly quoted lines as if they were speaking them for the very first time, actors with passion and deep emotion, but who aren’t afraid of blending humor with heartache.

All this is present in Northwest Classical Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet. Director Alana Byington has assembled a wonderful cast whose generally spot-on performances reminded me of how I got sucked into Shakespeare in the first place.

Butch Flowers was brilliant as Hamlet. He was totally believable in every facet of the Prince’s complex personality. He had just the right balance between brooding and energy, and what’s more, he gave the character consistency throughout, which is saying something.

Byington peopled Elsinore with a great supporting cast, too. Glen McCumber played Horatio with gentleness, simplicity and sincerity – the perfect friend for someone in the middle of a family crisis of epic proportions.Almost as soon as Dave Bodin (playing Polonius) started talking, I knew he had nailed the part. He drove me nuts. But then, Polonius is supposed to babble on incessantly and get under everyone’s skin. Polonius is obviously a dad who identifies with and really loves his son, but has no idea what to do with his daughter. Dave Burnett and Robert Wylie as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were delightful. The interaction between Claudius (Jason Maniccia) and Gertrude (Deanna Wells) helped explain Hamlet’s frustration at the situation he finds himself in. Chris Porter, Bibi Walton and Tom Walton did a fantastic job as the players. In fact, the whole staging of the bits with the players (the monologue when they first arrive, the “speak the speech” scene and the play within a play) was spot-on. Usually I find the players tedious… but especially the interweaving of the “speak the speech” monologue with the player (Tom Walton) “practicing” his line had me in stitches.

The only real downside for me was I couldn’t help thinking that somewhere, sometime, there has to be an Ophelia who can keep her clothes on. But I suppose it’s a tradition by now to show Ophelia’s insanity is not through her strange songs and odd fancies, but by having her lose all sense of decorum.

The pacing of the whole thing was masterful. Obviously, since the production was not four hours long, some parts were trimmed. But even though I know the play quite well, I didn’t find the missing bits distracting; I barely noticed them at all. Nowhere did the story get bogged down. The moments where things did slow down to emphasize something or let us catch our breath were earned and judiciously used.

Overall, the production was thoroughly enjoyable. To a theater geek like me, part of the fun is watching the cast operate in such a small space – which they do expertly. There’s nothing quite like live Shakespeare; and even if you’ve seen as many movie versions of Hamlet as I have, this production is still totally worth the time and money – as long as you’re the type who doesn’t mind mixing your laughter with tears, and leaving the stage covered with bodies at the end of a play.