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Hamlet

nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 2, 2006

Reduxion Theatre Company's debut production, a new revival of Hamlet, is an honest attempt to take William Shakespeare's most famous play out of the classroom and put it back on the stage where it belongs (anyone not fully up-to-speed on the story should click here for Shakespeare Online's reliably comprehensive plot synopsis). Director Tyler Woods has chosen to approximate Renaissance playing conditions by minimizing the set (three wooden blocks) and the cast (seven actors), and leaving the house lights at half, "to honor the idea that candlelight and sunshine...would have illuminated everyone, not just the actors," as he states in the program notes. The emphasis on telling the story in a clear way is successful in that there's never any doubt about who's playing who, which scene they're doing, or what's happening. However, this Hamlet is missing something crucial: the divine spark of inspiration—that intangible blend of passion and urgency that makes or breaks productions. There's technique aplenty here, but very little fire behind any of it.

But there are some good things about this Hamlet: when Michael Cherry finally warms up as Polonius, he brings out the character's inherent humor; in the opening scene, director Woods makes sense of the Ghost appearing in three different places at once by giving him a small hand gesture, like he's throwing his image to those locations; and, most notably the dual performance by Robert Michael McClure as both Claudius and the Ghost. His reading of the speech in which the Ghost implores Hamlet to revenge his death is the best and clearest I've ever seen. And, out of all the cast members, he is the one who is most comfortable with Shakespeare's language. He luxuriates in it enough to make it sound natural.

For the most part, the language sounds good here, and is not treated with the paralyzing reverence that stifles many Shakespeare productions. But, unfortunately, the words are also mostly devoid of meaning here. It seems as if Woods directs Hamlet without any point of view on it. I'm sure that's not the case, but it sure does come off that way. It feels like he's just thrown the actors on stage unsupervised and left the interpretation duties to them.

This is most evident, unfortunately, in Richard Bolster's performance in the title role. His one-dimensional reading of the character paints the Dane as a braying, petulant child whose mood swings are too random to be calculated (by him) or understood (by the audience). Bolster yells a lot, and rushes most of Hamlet's famous soliloquies so that they're over before they can be appreciated.

In the entire company's defense, Hamlet, to put it mildly, is a bitch. As one of the cornerstones of Western literature, thought, and philosophy, it's a play that people are still grappling to get to the bottom of over four hundred years after its debut. It is so full of meaning that it can induce paroxysms of apoplexy in even the most seasoned theatergoers. So, there's a lot going on here—more than most productions of this behemoth can ever express. And, Reduxion gets big chutzpah points for bravely attempting to tackle this challenging tragedy their first time out. But, I wish they had probed the text a little deeper, to find out what it means to them, and to express why it should still mean something to us.