"Hamlet" at Hartford Stage

by Rosalind Friedman

There is joy in my heart today; a lightness of spirit that has not been there in a while. I saw William Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Hartford Stage and it was wonderful!!! Darko Tresnjak, director of this production, and Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, has outdone himself. I must admit that I was not a fan of last year's Macbeth; it was literally too dark. But here in Hamlet he has captured the essence of this revenge tragedy, and given it a clean and contemporary sheen while keeping the traditional essence it needs.

The first dramatic scene on a bridge in Elsinor that sets the whole tone of the piece is magical. On Tresnjak's seemingly minimal set design, fascinatingly lit by Matthew Richards in changing colors, a patterned cross on the floor provides the walkway where all the action takes place. At the audience end, a trap door opens to allow for smoke and at the other end space for a ghost of Hamlet's dad, the king (Andrew Long) to appear majestically high above on a horse.

And who plays Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, you ask? A young man named Zach Appleman, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama who is so perfect in the role, so understandable, so believable, so in tune with the rhythm of the language that we are carried away by his character's logic and his madness. Delivering each and every stellar monologue with brio, but no affectation, Appleman heads a splendid cast, beautifully costumed by the award-winning Fabio Toblini. Hamlet has been played by old men, Englishmen, and men who used a faux English accent.It is a relief here to see someone who is the right age for the role; a university student, he is grieving for the death of his father, whom he loved and admired, and furious that his mother has married King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, only weeks after her husband died in a murder most fowl.

Outstanding are: James Seol, a clearly spoken Horatio, friend to Hamlet; attractive Kate Forbes, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother; Andrew Long as the duplicitous King Claudius, Edward James Hyland, Polonious, the convincing aged Councillor to the king and father of Laertes (Anthony Roach), and Ophelia, who is brought to life and death by a sparkling Brittany Vicars.

If I have one tiny complaint in this streamlined version is the lack of earth in the gravedigger's scene. However, that is a small price to pay for an otherwise wonderful production of Hamlet at Hartford Stage through November 16.

(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio)

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