But boy oh boy, is it a good Hamlet. The Lantern's production is gripping, highly theatrical and surprisingly funny. And at the center of it all is a great Hamlet, actor Geoff Sobelle, who attacks the role of Shakespeare's tragic hero with a ferocity that make it hard to tear one's eyes away from him.
Mind you, those eyes will always be on the move, following Sobelle as he scampers around the stage. When he delivers Hamlet's first soliloquy, he falls to the ground and rolls around as if his physical pain were as strong as the torment in his heart. (Later, when a troupe of actors visits Elsinore Castle, he shows them how to do their jobs by falling to the ground again, in a charmingly self-mocking moment.) When it's time for the "to be or not to be" soliloquy, he brandishes a knife that he practically waves in the faces of the people sitting in the front rowand then he places the tip of the knife on his own wrist, showing how close he comes to taking his own deadly advice. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern chase him, he evades them by leaping into the scaffolding and doing acrobatic tricks. And when the stage directions call for Hamlet to enter while reading a book, Sobelle does it while reading six books at onceall open, all laid out precariously in his arms. This Hamlet doesn't do anything halfheartedlyhe even reads with gusto.
Still, none of director Charles McMahon's choices feel showy or overdone, because Sobelle's performance is true to the many facets of literature's most conflicted character. Sulky and sarcastic one moment, angry and violent the next, Sobelle makes Hamlet's evolution from sullen loner to vengeful man of action dangerously potent.
The rest of the cast gets plenty of chances to shine too. Tim Moyer is wonderful as the stuffy, hypocritical Polonius; he advises his son Laertes to "neither a borrower, nor a lender be," then slips him a few bucks. Andrew Kane makes a strong Laertes, and Melissa Dunphy makes Ophelia's descent into madness sadly stirring. Dan Hodge brings a sweetly underplayed humor to the role of Horatio, the earnest student; when he discusses ancient Rome in the first scene, he has to consult a textbook to make sure he gets his facts right. And Dave Johnson and Dallas Drummond are hilarious as the obsequious (and overdressed) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. (The clever costumes are by Brian Strachan.)
Mary Martello is nicely conflicted as Queen Gertrude, and Joe Guzmán is an imperious King Claudius. Yet, while Guzmán has the regal bearing down pat, he's a bit lacking in wickedness; he never seems like a serious threat to Hamlet.
There's an exciting swordfight between Hamlet and Laertes (J. Alex Cordaro did the fight choreography) and moodily effective lighting by Drew Billiau. There's also spooky sound design by Nick Rye: when the ghost of Hamlet's father (also played by Guzmán) appears, speaking in a commanding baritone, a low rumble can be heard, and the ghost's words are echoed in a faint, distant whisper.
Running three hours (with one intermission), director McMahon's lively Hamlet seems to fly by, with only minor cuts to the text. (The only major character excised is the foreign prince Fortinbras, and you won't miss him.) This production is riveting, witty and a royal treat all around.
Hamlet runs through May 10, 2009 and is presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets. Ticket prices range from $20 to $35 and may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 215-829-0395, online at www.lanterntheater.org or in person at the box office.