If you ask me…
By Tom Holehan
“Hamlet” with Paul Giamatti at Yale
There’s a telling moment late in the second act of “Hamlet”, currently on stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre, where Hamlet, having killed Polonius in front of his mother, prepares to leave her bedchamber. He takes Polonius by the arms and starts to drag him out but then pauses to yell comically at the top of his lungs, “Good night, Mother!” It gets a huge laugh and is indicative of a production that features some of the odder choices you’ll see this season.
Already a big hit for Yale, “Hamlet” is a homecoming of sorts for actor Paul Giamatti, the fine film actor (“Sideways”, “John Adams”) who is a graduate of Yale and takes on this daunting title role with no reservations. To point out that Mr. Giamatti is nearly 20 years too old for the role is probably too obvious, but it is a concern that doesn’t entirely dissipate during the performance. Giamatti is never less than totally committed to his character, but his tendency to wisecrack, mug and go for the laugh seems off-putting during much of this classic tragedy. And, given his age, acting out like a spoiled child throughout the play continually rings false for the character.
But one has to admit that Giamatti is never less than entertaining in the role. Although the first act is nearly two hours it is well-paced under James Bundy’s direction and Giamatti remains a compelling actor to watch. Indeed, though it is only half the time, act two actually seems longer primarily because Giamatti hasn’t as much stage time. Whether he is rolling about on an office chair, wearing red sneakers with his tuxedo (the production is done in modern dress) or giving comic advice to the players, Giamatti is a consistent and compelling figure to watch. He seems to know that he’s miscast but is bound and determined to make the role his own anyway.
The rest of the company who, more or less, play it straight here include Marc Kudisch, a commanding King Claudius, Gerry Bamman as an astute and very funny Polonius and Austin Durant, moving as Horatio, Hamlet’s only friend. I also enjoyed Jarlath Conroy’s scene-stealing Gravedigger and the youthful vigor of Tommy Schrider’s Laertes. Blurry diction hampers the otherwise graceful performances of Lisa Emery (Gertrude) and Brooke Parks (Ophelia) and Paul Pryce makes for a striking Fortinbras but his poor articulation and broad acting of the role does a disservice to the play’s final scene.
Meredith B. Ries’ handsome setting resembles a stylized version of the Old Globe theatre and Jayoung Yoon’s contemporary costuming works just fine. The addition of a live “pit band” with music by composer Sarah Pickett, however, seems like overkill to the proceedings. But, all said, it probably fits a production with Mr. Giamatti in the title role.
“Hamlet’ continues at Yale through Saturday, April 13 and most performances are, reportedly, already sold out. For further information (203) 432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.