There is a saying among actors that despite all of Hamlet's complexity, all his many shifts in mood, there are really only two ways to play him: fast or slow. Champions of the slow see the Dane as melancholy and passive. Champions of the fast see him as impetuous and active. Champions of Fred Berman, Talking Dog's Hamlet, may well see him as Seinfeld on dexedrine.
Apart from an appropriately haunted stance in the opening scene, Berman tore through Shakespeare with astonishing bellicosity, recklessly destroying any assumptions one might have had concerning a brooding or introspective Prince. Perhaps this is to be expected from any actor who attempts to play Hamlet in rep with Rabbi Wolfe in Grandma Sylvia's Funeral, and yet there were indeed moments when his interpretation worked.
The days of the disheveled, nerdy Hamlet are apparently gone forever, the public having been convinced by Laurence Olivier (and numerous writers of playwriting texts) that the Prince is an active, scheming creature. Well, he certainly is that too, and Berman was wonderfully fiery whenever the text made such demands. He was also wonderfully fiery at other, less apropos moments, thus arousing the old question Olivier first begged: why wouldn't Hamlet kill Claudius straightaway? Why the delay? (Think of it. The whole play might have been reduced to a TV-friendly 90 minutes, thus saving audiences literally millions of hours of fidgeting during the succeeding four centuries.)
The play's length is a major clue to Hamlet's character, of course, and it is to be hoped that Berman will begin to include some of the traits thereby portended; e.g., crippling self-doubt, inertia, passive-aggressiveness, etc.
Speaking of Olivier, Larry's own explanation for the Dane's passivity was an unresolved Oedipus complex. One look at Theresa Bassani, this production's Gertrude, and the theory immediately gained plausibility. The attractive Bassani appeared to be about the same age as her onstage son, perhaps even younger. (We're talking about years of therapy, here.) And yet the casting was far from age-blind; Jim Christopher was a venerably hoary Polonius. Talking Dog should pay closer attention to such matters in the future.
Among those who made intriguing first passes at the Bard were Peter Giambalvo (Marcellus, Guildenstern), Andrew Wells (Bernardo, Rosencrantz), Timur Kocak (Laertes), Michelle Daimer (Reynalda, Player Queen), and Anne Marie Higgins (Ophelia) -- all of whom were but shadows of their future selves in the roles. Unfortunately, Jason O'Connell's performance (as Claudius) is probably beyond redemption, though he also was too young.
Campbell Bridges staged the climactic fight scene, and the spare production design was by Nicholas Hohn. As for the costumes (by Jennifer Pearse), the actors were clad in practically every shade of solid chemise imaginable, from shocking violet to cherry red. The look was vivid, to say the least; regrettably, however, it was less suggestive of the Castle Elsinore than a Danish bowling tournament.
Copyright 1997 Scott Vogel