Yale Rep's Hamlet Is Bound to Be Controversial

By Karen Isaacs

Yale Rep's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by Artistic Director James Bundy, is bound to be both financially successful for the Rep and controversial. The run was sold out before the show opened; from the moment it was announced that Paul Giamatti -- New Haven native, Yale alum (both undergrad and Drama School) and Oscar nominee and Emmy winner -- would be playing the lead, the buzz was tremendous.

 

Yet, Giamatti is not necessarily what you think of when you consider the title role. Hamlet is often viewed as tall, slender and blond -- after all he is a Danish prince. Giamatti is not tall, he is not slender and he is not blond -- he is definitely balding. In addition he looks his age --mid-40s. Most of us think of Hamlet as a young man. But both the text and Shakespeare scholars support the idea that Hamlet might be more mature. In the famous grave digger scene, the gravedigger announces that Yorick, the court jester, has been dead 23 years. Hamlet responds by telling us that he knew him well and shares memories of Yorick's antics with him.

 

Thus, many of us entered the University Theater with some reservations. I for one, left with most of them satisfactorily answered. Bundy, Giamatti and the rest of the cast have given us a very complete Hamlet that is both clear and interesting.

 

It is complete in that runs over three hours and a half, which is why the curtain is rising early. It is clear because you will have no difficulty following the action even if you are not overly familiar with the story of the Danish prince who wants to avenge his father's murder at the hand of his uncle who then married the widow.

 

The best thing about this production is Giamatti's interpretation but it will also be the most controversial. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet plays the fool. I found myself and the audience laughing at some of his antics far more than I ever have before. Is this the "right" way to play it? I'm not sure, and at first I was disconcerted. But as the play progressed, I became more and more fascinated with the interpretation. And I did find that by the end of the play, I was more touched by Hamlet's plight than in many other productions. I also found Giamatti's handling of the Shakespearean verse outstanding; unlike so many actors and directors who feel that it must be slowed down for American audiences, Giamatti and Bundy kept it conversational in both tone and pace. The major speeches do not seem like set pieces but flow more naturally.

 

The remaining cast overall is quite good. Some of the minor parts are weak, but the major roles, Marc Kudisch as Claudius, Lisa Emery as Gertrude, Tommy Schrider as Laertes, Gerry Bamman as Polonius, Brooke Parks as Ophelia are very good.

 

The set was a nice blend between minimalist and realistic. The outlines of the castle lent themselves to the needed flexibility that the various scenes require. The contemporary costumes did not seem out-of-place nor distracting. And both the lighting and sound contributed to the mood.

 

So if you can get a ticket -- and some will be available at the last minute as people cancel -- this is a Hamlet you should make an effort to see.

 

Hamlet is at the University Theater, 222 York St. through April 13. For tickets and information contact the box office at 203-432-1234.

 

This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers April3, 2013 and online at Zip06.com.

 

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