Regional Reviews: San Diego
For the uninitiated, Hamlet (Grantham Coleman) has suddenly lost his father, Denmark's king, as he is about to depart for university study. After a minimal period of mourning, his uncle, Claudius (Cornell Womack), has married his mother Gertrude (Opal Alladin) and assumed the throne. Hamlet is visited by his father's ghost (Michael Genet), who tells him that he was poisoned by Claudius to gain power. The ghost asks Hamlet to avenge his death, and, conveniently, Claudius and Gertrude ask Hamlet to forego his university study and stay in Elsinore. Hamlet decides that the best way he can determine whether the ghost's story is accurate is to pretend that he's mad and watch how those around him behave after they think he doesn't notice them.
Hamlet's "madness" affects the entire court, with tragic consequences. Many of the characters have died by play's end.
Of course, I'm being unfair here, because no brief synopsis can do Hamlet justice. It is filled with vivid secondary characters and multiple subplots, and its poetic text overflows with phrases that have become part of common parlance. One of the company's many challenges is to keep the story on track.
Mr. Edelstein's production holds focus on his father/son theme by placing an oversized suit of armor on stage throughout. The play is medieval, and Hamlet's father was a warrior king. But Hamlet is not really a medieval play, and costumes (designed by Cait O'Connor) are contemporary takes on medieval themes (the ghost, for example, wears armor that might have shown up in a Star Wars film). Similarly, Curtis Moore's original music, performed by onstage musicians Chaz Cabrera and Gabriel Wolf, melds contemporary jazz riffs with medieval heraldry.
The performance is long (three hours plus,with one intermission) but never drags, thanks to Tim Mackabee's scenic design, a set of movable towers and units that look industrial but which function in multiple roles as cast and crew members push them around the stage.
The large cast takes advantage of opportunities to play memorable moments. Mr. Genet, for example, gets to shine as the Player King and the Gravedigger in addition to his central role as the ghost. Jonny Orsini cuts a fine figure with his swordplay as Laertes (credit, in part, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum's fight direction). Talley Beth Gale makes the most out of Ophelia's mad scene. Ian Lassiter keeps the madness at bay as Hamlet's faithful friend Horatio. Local favorite Patrick Kerr effectively brings his distinct style to the role of Polonius.
Mr. Coleman's strength as the title character is his youth. He is a highly believable possessor of big emotions that lead to impetuous actions. He speaks the speech, trippingly on the tongue (aided by Sten Severson's sound design, which doesn't want the audience to miss a word). His weakness, at least on opening night, appeared in distinguishing lucidity from madness. Mr. Coleman is a very smart actor, and I suspect this aspect of his performance will grow with experience.
In the end, though, the star of the show is Mr. Edelstein, as the entirety of the production flows from his sensibilities as a Shakespearean. Those sensibilities result in a thoughtful and highly entertaining performance that serves as a fitting tribute to his relationship with his father.
The Old Globe's production of Hamlet runs through September 10, 2017, in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, an outdoor venue in San Diego's Balboa Park. Performances begin nightly at 8pm, except Monday. Some performances after Labor Day begin at 7pm. Evenings can be cool in San Diego, and patrons are advised to dress accordingly. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.
Cast members not named in the review: Amara James Aja, Samuel Max, Nora Carroll, Renardo Charles Jr., Ajinkya Desai, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Daniel Ian Joeck, Lorenzo Landini, Jose Martinez, Christina A. Okolo, Larica Schnell, and Samantha Sutliff. Additional creative team members are: Stephen Strawbridge (Lighting Design), and David Huber (Voice Coach).