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Folger Theatre/Globe Theatre Hamlet

By • Sep 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Hamlet
Folger Theatre
Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Washington DC
Through September 22nd
2:45 with one intermission
Price varies
Reviewed September 9th, 2012

The melancholy Dane? Not in the Globe Theatre’s touring production of Hamlet, currently playing at the Folger Theater. Michael Benz’s Hamlet has scarcely an echo of the ambivalent, indecisive, reflective, brooding character frequently played by actors undertaking the role. This Hamlet is a fast-talking, nearly manic whirlwind, full of nervous energy and constant movement. The dynamism of the Benz’s performance compensates, at least in part, for whatever nuances get left in the dust.

Benz’s Hamlet doesn’t waver, but rather moves excitedly from one thing to the next. The scene in which Hamlet comes upon Claudius appearing to pray, for example, has little in the way of agonized frustration at a lost opportunity for revenge. Rather, Hamlet seems almost giddy with enthusiasm about the opportunity to kill Claudius later, in situation that would result in not only his enemy’s death but in his condemnation to hell.

This is a pared-down Hamlet, using eight actors, with everyone except Benz performing between two and five roles. The quick changes, accomplished generally with small costume bits, contribute to the rapid flow of the production, which incorporates elements of farce to a much greater extent than most versions of the play. The actors not involved in a scene frequently sit upstage, ready for their next entrance, sometimes playing musical instruments to accompany the action.

Christopher Saul plays Polonius as the traditional comic windbag, and does so effectively; his First Gravedigger has perhaps too much in common with his Polonius characterization, missing out on some of the intelligence and sharpness of his repartee with Hamlet. Dickon Tyrell does better at differentiating his characters. As Claudius, he is a calculating master of spin and manipulation; his Ghost is more direct, and less spectral, than many interpretations of the role. He has a particularly nice moment as he raises his hand to almost comfort Gertrude.

Unlike many actors playing Gertrude, Miranda Foster avoids imposing an explanation of her character’s actions (e.g., that she is passionately in love with Claudius; that she sees Claudius as a road to maintaining power; that, at a time when even aristocratic women are relatively powerless, she must be ruled by whoever is king). Gertrude’s motives remain as opaque to the audience as they do to Hamlet.

Carlyss Peer does a credible and touching job with Ophelia’s mad scene, though her rather healthy and robust demeanor before her father’s death — this is not one of your wan, pre-Raphaelite Ophelias — does little to prepare for her rapid disintegration. Tom Lawrence is as warm, supportive, and rational as one could ask of a Horatio. Laertes is a role that can sometimes get lost, but Matthew Romain does the most transparent, understandable and ultimately sympathetic portrayal of the character I can recall seeing (he is also a good fiddler).

All the actors are excellent technically, and the diction is crystal clear, even at the speeds at which lines are often delivered. Not a word is lost. This production is a good reminder that, notwithstanding the local vogue for “silent” Shakespeare, the power and glory of Shakespeare resides principally in his words and actors’ interpretations of them.

Fittingly for an actor-centered, fast-paced production, the design concept is minimalist, with some planks, stools, and a hand-drawn curtain making do for a set. The costumes have mostly a subdued, neutral palette (Ophelia’s orange and red dress being the major exception), useful as actors switch quickly from one character to another. The swordplay and other fight choreography in the final scene are well designed and performed.

Before the show begins, cast members meander about the stage and into the house, chatting up people in the audience. There is a bit of music and dance as the company introduces itself. Perhaps in a way intended to parallel this opening, the show closes on a bizarre note. After the final scene, with all the major characters lying dead on the stage, Ophelia re-enters and raises up the actors from the floor, following which the entire cast performs what can only be described as a cheery folk dance, quite thoroughly dispelling the mood of tragedy the cast has worked hard to create. The rest, it seems, is not silence at all, but rather something fun one might see at a Renaissance Faire.

Photo Gallery

Michael Benz as Hamlet and Carylss Peer as Ophelia Michael Benz as Hamlet
Michael Benz as Hamlet and Carylss Peer as Ophelia
Michael Benz as Hamlet

Photos by Fiona Moorhead

Cast

  • Michael Benz: Hamlet
  • Peter Bray: Rosencrantz/Marcellus/Fortinbras/Osric
  • Miranda Foster: Gertrude/Second Player/Player Queen/Second Gravedigger
  • Tom Lawrence: Horatio/Reynaldo/Captain
  • Carlyss Peer: Ophelia/Voltemand
  • Matthew Romain: Laertes/Bernardo/Guildenstern/Lucianus
  • Christopher Saul: Polonius/Francisco/Player/First Gravedigger/Priest
  • Dikon Tyrell: Claudius/Ghost/First Player/Player King

Production Staff

  • Composer/Arranger: Bill Barclay
  • Globe Associate-Text: Giles Block
  • Director: Bill Buckhurst
  • Assistant Text Work: Ng Choon Ping
  • Assistant Director: Alison Convey
  • Director and Artistic Director: Dominic Dromgoole
  • Set and Costume Designer: Jonathan Fensom
  • Globe Associate-Movement: Glynn MacDonald
  • Fight Director: Kevin McCurdy
  • Voice and Dialect: Martin McKellan
  • Lighting Designer/Production Manager: Paul Russell
  • Assistant Choreographer: Chloe Stephens
  • Choreographer: Sian Williams

Disclaimer: Folger Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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