“Hamlet” in Spades! Hartford Stage through November 16

By Tom Nissley

Lots of directors have reached for a more perfect “Hamlet,” and Darko Tresnjak has reached very well. The new “Hamlet” at Hartford Stage is compelling and handsome and breath-taking. He has overcome the great questions with ease? How will there be a ghost on the towers (and how will there be towers?) How will Ophelia “work?” Will Hamlet seem a real student? And the grave? How about the grave and Yorick’s skull?

The production sets a new standard for what “Hamlet” can be, rewarding audiences with a realistic student in the title role (Zach Appelman) who moves and speaks magnificently, an equally realistic Horatio (James Seol), Hamlet’s chum, and also a student at Wittenburg, and a large cast of well-chosen actors who make this favorite Shakespeare come to life.

Tresnak designed the set himself: a cruciform platform extending towards the center of the audience’ amphitheater, with several ample benches near it and some moveable, also ample, chairs. Beneath the central bench closest to the audience, there is a stairwell that goes downward when the platform is a parapet, and again when Polonius (Edward James Hyland) is hiding out of sight in the bed-chamber of Queen Gertrude (Kate Forbes). Above the circle at the center of the cruciform platform a grand chandelier appears when the action is within the castle, and from time to time simulated swaths of curtain also appear near the rear of the stage to indicate indoor scenes. The same stairwell mentioned above becomes the place of the grave diggers, and then the grave of Ophelia (Brittany Vicars). The design is part and parcel of the production, and it is amazing.

Colin McGurk assisted in the set design. The lighting design, by Matthew Richards, is a significant addition to the production, focusing on persons and on objects, like the chalice in the final scene, so that we may follow the direction. Kudos, too, to the excellent sound design of Jane Shaw. The spectacular costumes (Fabio Toblin) and wigs (Brandalyn Fulton) add their part.

But it is the action that accompanies Shakespeare’s script that keeps us riveted to this performance. The shock absorbed by Hamlet when his father’s ghost confirms his suspicion of his uncle/stepfather and describes poison dropped into his ear. This in turn inspires Hamlet to add a scene to the (superb) visiting players’ presentation, showing a poison fruit squeezed into a sleeping king’s ear, quickly ending their play as King Claudius goes ballistic. Claudius and the Ghost of King Hamlet are played by the same actor (Andrew Long), as is often the case. Long is terrific in the parts, inter-acting with Forbes’ Gertrude, and plotting with Laertes (Anthony Roach) to revenge Polonius’ and Ophelia’s deaths. The story unfolds at a quick pace, all centered on the nimble mind and movements of Appleman’s Hamlet.

So look, for the next few weeks this “Hamlet” will be available to you at Hartford Stage. If you can possibly get there, go. Take your children. Send student friends. It is the real thing, and years from now, you and they will remember it as a very special production of this very important play.

You can get tickets and information at www.hartfordstage.org or by calling 860-527-5151

Tom Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.
October 23, 2014

Tom Nissley at the Ridgelea Institute New Canaan, CT 06840 203-322-1400 direct


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