nytheatre.com review by Carissa Cordes
August 12, 2011
Bama Theatre Company is back with their trunk for their third FringeNYC in a row, but instead of a comedy, this time they are putting on the Bard’s epic tragedy, Hamlet. An ensemble of 9 actors takes on 19 characters with a small number of props and a well-imagined trunk to present a surprisingly clear production of Hamlet. The director, Greg Foro, skillfully employs timing and uses the space effectively. The music and soundscapes created help propel the show and set the scene effectively and simply.
Hamlet is a story about a king who is killed by his brother, Claudius (David Matthew Douglas). Right away Claudius marries the queen, Gertrude (Lauren Anne Martin). The prince, Hamlet (Chris Roe), despairs with the swiftness of events confiding only in his dear friend Horatio (Matt Renskers). Gertrude and Claudius bring two school buddies Rosencrantz (Nick Lawson) and Guildenstern (Sarah Walker Thornton) to keep an eye on Hamlet. After Hamlet learns the truth from his father’s ghost, he decides to pretend he’s insane until he can find proof of his father's murder, by way of employing a troupe of players, and be revenged. In doing so he breaks the heart of his lover, Ophelia (Alison Fredrick), and accidently kills her father, Polonius (Nathan T Lange). Ophelia kills herself and her brother Laertes (Nick Lawson) plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet in a duel.
Though the effects are simple they are well-employed, the ghost of the king is a great example. Having most of the cast on stage most of the time as spectators gives the sense this high profile family is constantly being watched, so when Hamlet says “Now I am alone” for his soliloquy, the tension on stage actually lifted. It was surprising how effective it was to see Hamlet truly alone on stage with no spectators. With a wink to the audience, the players bring on a small trunk, demonstrating that as seriously as Bama takes their story-telling they are willing to laugh at themselves. Not bogged down by excessive and over-thought ideas/costumes/sets, their storytelling is precise. The story is the thing.
The actors are all amazing, and create a very special ensemble. Chris Roe makes an easy to follow and heartbroken Hamlet. Alison Fredrick is skillful as a heartbreaking Ophelia in her "crazy" scene and then goes offstage and comes back as a hilarious gravedigger. Matt Renskers as Horatio captures the despair and struggle, landing the final moment of the play with grace.
In the world of FringeNYC one might not expect to see such a clear and understood Shakespeare, but Bama Theatre Company is not one to disappoint and should not be missed. They presented a well-thought out Hamlet with the right balance of humor and pathos and I hope to see their trunk again in many more shows.