Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Gareth Saxe Delivers a Memorable Hamlet
Also see Bob's review of Any Other Name
As he speaks each of Hamlet's lines, Saxe displays a sense of thoughtfulness, with a natural rhythm and intonation which make us feel that the words have just arisen new, born from inside him. Thus, Saxe's Hamlet feels close to us and contemporary without sacrificing any of the classic grandeur of Shakespeare's masterpiece. In the mental health sense, this Hamlet is not at all mad. However, this Hamlet is a lot of other things, all integrated into an impressive and endlessly fascinating persona. Saxe's Hamlet is loyal, brilliant and intuitive, quick to unleash his rapier caustic wit, and unwilling to suffer fools. He is also increasingly angry, fatalistic concerning his chance for survival, and depressed beyond tears by the duplicity which surrounds him. He is never "mad" in the sense that his reason has failed him. Hamlet's caustic wit pervades every line and action with which he feigns madness in order to hide his cunning from the enemies around him. Even his cruel, seemingly irrational rejection of Ophelia is understandably intended to end her affection for him. Thus, as he embarks upon his quest to avenge his father's death, Hamlet reasons that she will be spared from being devastated by what he sees as his inevitable death. (In fact, as interpreted here, it is her father's heedless rejection which provides a stronger blow than Hamlet's rejection.)
There are any number of other fine performances in this production. Robert Cuccioli increases the evening's wattage with a powerful portrayal of Claudius, Hamlet's murderous uncle and stepfather. Cuccioli clearly underlines Claudius' knowledge that the murder of his brother has made him a king without moral authority. Having established this vulnerability, Cuccioli parleys it into creating electricity when Claudius makes his final determination to order Hamlet's murder. Cuccioli doubles as the Ghost of Hamlet's father. John Hickok elicits abundant laugher from the vapid pomposity of the foolish Polonius. He is abetted by the richness of Saxe's mockery of him. In the same vein, Daniel Stewart as Laertes punctures any possibility of our taking Polonius' advice to him seriously (performing that speech as wisdom is best left to recitations). Stewart brings a sense of individuality to Laertes by making him a bit odd and off-putting in manner. Contrary to tradition, Lauren English is a rosy checked and robust Ophelia. English's interpretation works just fine, having the effect of making Ophelia's disintegration especially sad without diminishing its believability.
All in all, a cast of fourteen performs 27 roles with eight cast members doubling to quadrupling. Ames Adamson makes a particularly strong impression as the First Player (King) and in two other roles. Gene Gillette and Michael Stewart play off each other well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Director Bonnie J. Monte has elicited excellent performances, analyzing each line skillfully to create a unified, thinking-person's Hamlet. It must be noted that the production does fall short of being enthralling. Given the strength of the interpretation and performances, I would hazard a guess that budget constraints are responsible for this. There are virtually no Lords and Ladies, and only precious few Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Messengers and other Attendants to be seen. Neither does Ms. Monte's sparse set nor the dark, difficult to place costumes of Hugh Hanson add to the scope of what feels like a constrained production (in fairness, I do remember seeing a Broadway Hamlet with a set consisting of black curtains). In any event, this should not keep anyone from seeing this very superior, beautifully acted and interpreted Hamlet.
By attending the Shakespeare Theatre's production of Hamlet, you will see an illuminating performance by Gareth Saxe, and secure bragging rights in the years to come for having seen him in it.
Hamlet continues performances (Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. except October 11) through October 11, 2009 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare; directed by Bonnie J. Monte