Monday, January 14, 2013

GableStage: Hamlet (3 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet on January 12, 2013.
The American Premiere of a 90-minute, high energy version of the most powerful and important tragedy in the English language, adapted for London's Royal Shakespeare Company by Miami's own Award-Winning playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Tarell Alvin McCraney directed a cast that included Edgar Sanchez, Mimi Davila, Peter Haig, James Samuel Randolph, Arielle Hoffman, Alana Arenas, Ryan George, and Dylan Kammerer.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
In his fast-and-furious Hamlet at GableStage, director-adaptor Tarell Alvin McCraney gets right down to business.

William Shakespeare’s great tragedy and longest play doesn’t begin with two Elsinore Castle sentinels spying the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father. Instead, the play opens with a magnetic Edgar Miguel Sanchez launching into Hamlet’s famous Act 3 Scene 1 soliloquy, a contemplation of suicide: “To be, or not to be -- that is the question...”
As a director, McCraney has drawn effective, sometimes dynamic performances from his eclectic cast, actors who range over that broad playing area and sometimes spill into the audience. That physical proximity ratchets up the play’s excitement and tension, particularly in the deadly sword fight between Sanchez’s Hamlet and Ryan George’s Laertes, a scene that ends in multiple deaths and blood-drenched daggers.
Sanchez -- omnipresent, crafty, sorrowful, furious -- drives the play... Davila’s Ophelia morphs from a sweet, smitten schoolgirl into a way over-the-top, sexualized madwoman.

James Samuel Randolph, with his rich voice and facility with Shakespeare’s language, is an artful villain as Claudius and a frightening presence as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. As Gertrude, Alana Arenas subtly conveys the push-pull of her feelings for her new husband and her only son. Together, Arenas and Randolph make for a regal, commanding couple.

Peter Haig deftly plays Polonius as a quirky, energetic schemer whose plotting leads to his undoing. Dylan Kammerer supplies solid backup to Hamlet as the prince’s best bud Horatio. George flips from the generally angry Laertes to a goofy Rosencrantz, and as Guildenstern (and a singing, ukulele-playing Osric), Arielle Hoffman makes a beguiling Shakespearean debut. New World students Laura Di Lorenzo, Michael Napoles and Alfie Ramirez acquit themselves well as the court’s visiting acting troupe, and they add a bit of sabor espaƱol to the production.

Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
...considering the severe edit on the play, the major plot points all survive in a coherent rendering of the play, with a minimum of stylistic gimmicks. You get the impression that McCraney does respect Shakespeare, but wants to turn on reluctant audience members to his powerful yarns.
Sanchez makes a lively and verbally accomplished Hamlet, with the deep-voiced James Samuel Randolph doubling capably as new king Claudius and the ghost of Hamlet Sr. Peter Haig is a crafty presence as Polonius, even if some of his most memorable lines are absent. For my taste, Mimi Davila’s Ophelia could tone down her steamy mad scenes, but others are bound to disagree.

I wonder whether those who devour Reader’s Digest condensed novels ever then seek out the unabridged texts. If McCraney’s Hamlet does draw in new audiences, that would be great, and even better would be if they then discovered the full play.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
This vibrant and youthful Hamlet honors the music of the Bard’s language by using solely his words edited by McCraney and Bijan Sheibani. But director McCraney places an equal premium on actors communicating a line’s meaning rather than being mindlessly captive to the poetry, a virtue reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh’s films.
The key soliloquies are here and many of the oft-quoted phrases, but Hamlet lovers will easily spot wholesale cuts... Still, there is not even a whiff of a dumbed-down Classics Illustrated approach. The cleanness and clarity after having pared away the verbal curlicues and fripperies just highlight the magnificence of what’s left.
A capable cast is led by an especially impressive Sanchez as a vital young man driven by a mission of revenge and consumed with guilt over his reticence. Wilier than most of the people around him, Sanchez’s canny Hamlet masks the churning bile with a warm, broad smile.
The cast is comprised of either South Florida residents or former Miamians.  Among the standouts is veteran Peter Haig who skillfully makes Polonius more of a self-important politician than the characterization of a fool that some actors stoop to. He’s been looking for a while for the right role and the right director; given this chance, he displays all the accumulated skill and technique that come from his extensive experience.
The same goes for local educator James Samuel Randolph who has performed Lear and Othello for New Theatre. His sonorous voice and his facility with the verse serve the robust Claudius well enough. But those gifts are especially effective when his ghost strides across the stage seemingly nine feet tall with a voice emanating from the bowels of Hell.
The surprise was Ryan George, another Miamian who McCraney cast in 2011 as the likeable if hapless ex-con in GableStage’s The Brothers Size. Tall, wiry and with a shaven pate, his fey Rosencrantz was passable, but his Laertes is arguably the most dynamic force on the stage.
Alana Arenas, a former Miamian who is part of Chicago’s Steppenwolf ensemble, makes Gertrude a cross between a royal consort still open to afternoon delight with her new husband and yet maintains the decorum of a lady wearing a different kind of crown to an AME church social.
McCraney’s staging is relatively spare and straightforward, although he inserts  visual touches such as using a long blue winding sheet to represent Ophelia’s grave. He chooses to have Sanchez speak the soliloquies directly through the fourth wall to the audience as if he was explaining himself to a friend rather than speaking to himself. He also uses Jeff Quinn’s lighting to handle most of the scene changes with cinematic fluidity. Matt Corey enhances the mood with imagistic and slightly surreal sound cues.
Hamlet plays at GableStage through February 10, 2013.

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