Monday, July 28, 2008

Hamlet at Stan Hywet

You've got one weekend left to see a really rip roaring good Hamlet performed by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival at Stan Hywet Hall here in Akron. (Tickets for July 31, Aug 1 & 2 can be ordered online here.) Last night was a perfect summer night for contemplating once more the tragedy and comedy of the prince of existential thought, Hamlet of Denmark. We enjoyed the pleasant temperatures, the scenic views of Stan Hywet grounds and the bullfrog chorus from the nearby lagoon. Unlike the prior night, the actors did not have to contend with sudden downpours in the midst of their outdoor performance.

There weren't any program notes to inform us, but it seemed to me that this was a mostly complete version of the text, with characters who usually get cut like Reynaldo and the second grave digger strutting on stage to show us exactly why Shakespeare included them in the first place.

Director Terry Burgler knows his latest Shakespeare-in-performance research and puts it into play in delightful ways. The characters speak to us and include us in the story, and let us in on the amazing comedy that weaves its way throughout the tragic Danish landscape. How else to deal with the horrors of death, than to indulge in graveyard humor?

Andrew Cruse as Hamlet is excellent, certainly up to Barrymore standards (see above image), which I say having never seen Barrymore because his performance never made it to film. However, it remains the legendary performance I can only wish that I'd seen. Cruse's Hamlet does not mope about in slow motion angst, rather he fills the stage with an energy that will not relent until some sort of resolution is reached. We watch in total absorption, even though the ending is etched in our permanent memories. The greatness of the play is that it never matters how many times one has seen it or read it, it is impossible not to get caught up in it all over again.

Noteworthy performances in abundance in this production, enough so that everybody will have plenty of favorites to rave over afterwards. I particularly enjoyed Horatio, Polonius and Osric. The only discordant note was the appearance of a plastic crown, a plastic helmet and plastic body armor. If everybody is clearly dressed in Elizabethan costuming, plastic pieces have to be distressed in some way to disguise the plastic when it appears under the lights.

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