Also see John's review of Pig Tale: An Urban Faerie Story
Shakespeare's tragic tale is set in the Kingdom of Denmark. There the despondent Prince Hamlet seeks revenge on his uncle Claudius whom he suspects of murdering his father (Claudius' own brother) King Hamlet. Claudius has since succeeded to the throne, and taken as his wife Gertrude, the old king's widow and Prince Hamlet's mother. The play vividly portrays both true and feigned madnessfrom overwhelming sorrow to seething rageand explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption and family.
At nearly four and a half hours, the original version of Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play. This production at GableStage has been edited to just under 90 minutes by Sheibani and McCraney. Shakespeare purists may balk at such an undertaking. Several characters such as Voltimand, Fortinbras, Francisco, Bernardo, and the Gravedigger have been deleted. Gone are such memorable moments such as the comedic bit in Act 1, Scene 5 which holds the famous line "Alas poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio" (often misquoted as Alas poor Yorick! I knew him well). Also gone is the Act 1, Scene 3 advice from Polonius to his son Laertes "To thine own self be true." Though clearly some sacrifices are made along the way, the only real loss is that the character of Queen Gertrude is left unexplored by the cuts. The fact that the show actually begins with the Act 3, Scene 1 monologue "To be or not to be" declares the intent of the editors from the start. This version of Hamlet serves to narrow the focus of the show to the heart of the matterHamlet's overwhelming thirst for justice and vengeance. The end product does indeed work as a clean, cohesive piece which still maintains the continuity of the story line.
As Shakespeare has been done in so many different settings, and in so many different ways, one may rightfully ask what this production has to say that is new, more identifiable or more palatable. The set is fairly neutral. A basic, modest castle room with curtain covered arched doorways that could be today or four hundred years ago. The costumes are also vague. Gertrude's dress and most of the men's suits look late 1930s, while Laertes' uniform and Ophelia's dress are more modern. Casting at first glance is color blind. It completely works that the actors/players are Spanish speaking and looking actors, as it somehow sets them apart from the cast of main characters. It also means that the entertainment they provide of Spanish prose and music emerges as a genuine respite from the tension of the action at hand. Ophelia, Polonius, Horatio and Guildenstern/Osric appear to be the only Caucasians in the show. There is also some gender switching as Guildenstern/Osric is played by a female even though none of the lines referring to Guildenstern as a man have been changed. If the other actors of color had been directed to bring an urban or ethnic feel to their characters (or if perhaps the setting had been modified) the casting choice would have made more sense. One is left wondering exactly what the director was trying to say by these choices, as it is never made clear.
Upon uttering the phrase "Get thee to a nunnery" Edgar Miguel Sanchez steps fully into the role of Hamlet. In this production, that is perhaps 15 minutes into the show. Until then his lines sound a bit stilted, and his pacing rushed to the point of obscuring the meaning of his words. But once he gets to this point he is pure magic until the end. He embodies the anxiety, torment, intensity and determination of the character. What becomes clear is that, in his torment, justice and vengeance are not necessarily the same. His initial moral shield of indignant righteousness is tarnished by his quest for vengeance. In the end he sees his own corruptibility spill over onto the lives of those around him whether they are with or without blame. The only minor flaw in this character concept is a directorial one. Delivering the entire "To be or not to be" speech to the audience while breaking the fourth wall by addressing specific individuals mars the premise of the ultimate internal monologue. Another odd directorial choice is the portrayal of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz as commedia dell'arte buffoons when nothing else in the play bears any similar treatment. While they provided needed comedic relief, their silliness reads as mostly a gimmick.
Peter Haig portrays a Polonius that is more pompous and blustering than foolish. It is obvious that he has a firm grasp of the rhythm of the piece and is comfortable with the language of Shakespeare. Mimi Davila is extraordinary as Ophelia. Through her the words of Shakespeare feel the most organic, and she is crystal clear with her intent, even in Ophelia's madness. James Samuel Randolph's resonant voice provides an imposing Claudius, and his strong physical presence creates an eerie Ghost. With a story that is easy to follow, and blessed with some fine acting moments, this production of Hamlet may be a perfect choice for those looking to be introduced to one of Shakespeare's tragedies for the first time.
This production of Hamlet will be appearing at The GableStage through February 10, 2013. The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, SouthFloridaTheatre.com and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local and non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are 8 pm Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 pm Sunday. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or online at www.GablesStage.org.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.