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Hamlet

a Tragedy
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3349

SHOWING : April 03, 2009 - May 03, 2009

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The secret midnight utterings of a kingly ghost set events in motion that seal the tragic fate of Denmark’s royal family. Often considered the greatest tragedy of all time, Shakespeare’s legendary characters will grace the Tavern stage delivering some of the most famous and emotionally engaging poetry of all time.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Drew Reeves
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Production Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Polonius / Captain Tony Brown
Gertrude Laura Cole
Laertes / Player Nicholas Faircloth
Hamlet Matt Felten
Horatio Doug Graham
Rosencrantz / Francisco / Attendant Joshua Lee Jones
Reynaldo / Osrick / Player / Clown John Stephen King
Fortinbras / Marcellus / Player Mike Niedzwiecki
Bernardo / English Ambassador / Clown Daniel Parvis
Claudius Maurice Ralston
Ghost of King Hamlet / Player / Priest Travis Smith
Ophelia Amee Vyas
Guildenstern / Attendant Jacob York
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

A more realistic, less vitriolic look at ASC's Hamlet
by speruoc
Saturday, May 2, 2009
4.5
Sorry to say that this is coming very late in the run; only two more performances are scheduled for this production of Hamlet. I feel, however, if you do have a chance to catch this Hamlet, do so.

I felt overall that this was the best Hamlet I have seen at the Tavern, and I have seen all of them. There were fine pieces of work in other ASC productions of this play that I remember clearly; however, this time more of it is fine, more of it is clear, more of it has a purpose that is understandable to the audience.

Matt Felten has grown tremendously since the first time he took on the role of Hamlet. Always in possession of a gift most Shakespearean actors would kill for, an ability to say and mean Shakespeare's language in a way that is understandable to most listeners, Matt was able to take on the character this time and take us with him. He rarely lost the edge. He very wisely does not strive to come off as a great actor, but as a really, really good craftsman, which is something very necessary to maintaining a role this big, this varied, this truly impossible to pull off perfectly. The performance was well balanced and kept us engaged from the first lines. A tough job to do, and well done.

A wonderful surprise for me tonight was Travis Smith as the ghost, and as the Player King. I had missed the ASC production "Of Mice and Men," only seeing a few minutes of Travis's work as Lennie - now I wish I had seen more. It's a rare gift to be very clear about speech and emotion and to have the kind of strong stage presence Mr. Smith has. The first scene between Hamlet and the ghost of his father was excellent, the actors well matched in ability. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

This was not Maurice Ralston's best Claudius - that was the first time he did the role. Maurice is best when the "demon" energy can come out, enough to make his roles fully human. The first Claudius was angry, jealous, and full of desire. There was no real desire in this Claudius. This Claudius was a gentleman who eventually reveals in his words that he has a darkly passionate side that does not quite come out in his actions. Maurice is fully capable of using that kind of passion - I would like to see it come out onstage.

This was Laura Cole's best Gertrude. In the bedroom scene with Matt she was able to tap something of the heart of the character that has eluded all of the actresses that have played this role at the Tavern - in fact, has eluded most modern actresses who have attempted the role. Gertrude is a woman of a time when women were property and they knew it. Though the timing of her marriage to Claudius was more than questionable, the actual act was a common one - once a woman was in royal position, if a husband died another was usually waiting to make a politically advantageous match. It would be something she would expect and think nothing of.

What I think makes for an interesting Gertrude is when she finds a passion in her new husband she never had with the first, even if he was a good man. That passion is a gift no woman could expect - and it would usually be welcome when it happened! That passion was completely missing in this performance until she was arguing with her son; then it became real and full of life's blood. Laura also did less physically and more with her inner work, which is the best choice for playing a Queen. I believed in her Gertrude in a way I have not been able to before.

Amee Vyas as Ophelia did a good job, but does not have the physical stillness that would help make Ophelia understandable. Amee is a physically active personality onstage; Ophelia is a pliant girl until she becomes mad, and that compliance and confusion should come from someone who truly does not know how to take action. The mad scene did go well, and I very much appreciated her decisions about her hair and face, which made the mad Ophelia so radically different from her former self. She was an Ophelia caught in a terrible dream, but not quite mad enough. She was also never a girl Hamlet might have truly loved. We need that from Ophelia.

Tony Brown's Polonius was sweetly funny and calm; Doug Graham's Horatio was steady, but could have used some more emotional attachment to what was going on. Daniel Parvis as the gravedigger was hilarious; Daniel can be counted on to make good creative choices and has the gift to pull them off very well. The way he ended the scene, almost like a devil going back to his comfy hell, was a delight.

Nicholas Faircloth was a decent Laertes in every sense of the word. The sword fight between him and Matt was one of the best I have seen at the Tavern in a very, very long time, full of excitement.

With a good, balanced supporting cast, Hamlet kept moving and kept moving us. Do go see it before it's gone. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Polonius and Ghost steal the show
by uppermiddlebrow
Friday, May 1, 2009
4.0
It is not entirely complimentary to the Tavern's production of Hamlet that Polonius and the Ghost steal the show. But it is wonderful that Tony Brown finds an endearing sparkle in his tedious courtier that makes his death the most regrettable in the whole tragedy. And Travis Smith's voice is made for Shakespearean poetry, all the more for his regional twang, so that his ghost and his player are commanding presences.

Matthew Felten reprises the leading part, still playing Hamlet as a callow youth no more apt to take responsibility for murdering Polonius and pushing Ophelia to suicide than a spoiled teen who's wrecked his mom's car. I was rooting for Laertes to finish him off in the fencing contest. Only a rarely gifted actor can take on the role of Hamlet and win, but Mr Felten does not make us believe Fortinbras's closing words that the Dane had the makings of a great king. On the other hand, Felten's clarity of diction is masterly: he brings out the meaning of every line and, however hushed his tone, he's always perfectly audible at the back of the balcony.

Mo Ralston's Claudius is convincingly politic and guilty. The scene in the chapel where he gains no comfort from prayer is movingly done, as is his resigned acceptance of Gertrude's accidental poisoning as punishment for his crimes. Nick Faircloth, Joshua Lee Jones and Jacob York are convincing, too.

The women are another story. Did the production set out to make a point about the playwright's misogyny? Ophelia's annoying and Gertrude is a stupid whore: not quite what the play calls for. And both highly experienced actresses babble inexcusably at times, their words lost to the audience. Incomprehensibility is also a serious problem for Doug Graham as Horatio, a shame because his looks and bearing are fien for the role.

In the player scene, Polonius acts the amateur critic, much as we do on this website. His response to Travis Smith's heroic rhetoric is a philistine "too long." I will take the risk of similarly being laughed out of court when I level the same criticism at the gravedigger scene in this production. An exhausted audience does not need a jarring drunk joke to take over the action so late in the tragedy.

Such cavils apart, the Tavern delivers strong work in bringing Hamlet to life, to the evident appreciation of a packed house. If a mostly young audience gets such a kick out of seeing the play, perhaps this uppermiddlebrow should stay behind the arras and admit that they know what they are doing at the Tavern. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The Rest is Silence
by Dedalus
Thursday, April 16, 2009
4.0
After you’ve seen more than ten “Hamlet’s”, it’s impossible to see any new production without having preconceptions. You will always find moments in a new mounting that work or don’t work better or worse than that moment worked in any number of prior excursions. Most of the time it comes down to a director or actor choice that was not better or worse, merely different. “Hamlet” is that kind of play – there are so many layers, so many ambiguities, that all choices can never meet expectations, that any expectations can be pleasantly surprised or changed.

That being said, any production that has a strong Hamlet at its center and a rip-snortin’ sword fight at the end will be a good one, a memorable one. In Matt Felten, the Shakespeare Tavern has found a Hamlet that moves, that appeals, that brings this oft-analyzed, never fully understood character off of his lofty academic pedestal and grounds him in a production that clarifies the more opaque passages of the script. Mr. Felten is one of the greatest Danes I’ve seen, and his performance is a joy to watch, to see come to life. That he is backed up by one of the best Polonius’s (Tavern perennial Tony Brown) I’ve seen since ... well, ever … is merely icing on the cake.

Of course, now that that’s said, I won’t drift off into silence, but will try to elaborate on the few things that (to me) fell short with this production, and the (to me) many things that worked.

I felt the evening started off on a very wrong foot with a very bad performance in a major supporting role (which shall go nameless here). This was a droning (“I know my lines but don’t ask me what they mean”) recital that exemplifies what can drive people away from Shakespeare – all sing-song but no music, all indistinct mono-volume, mono-tone mush-mouth with no clarity. The effects of the initial ghost scene were, however, quite good – I loved the whispering voices on the soundtrack that added to the creepiness factor, and Travis Smith’s ghost is wonderfully rendered and almost mythic. Still, whenever (name withheld) opened his mouth, the scene ground to a halt.

I was also a bit put off by Maurice Ralston’s initial scene as Claudius. It was a by-the-numbers reading reminiscent of the “phone-in” job he did with “Romeo and Juliet” earlier this year. Fortunately, this time, he seemed to “get his motor running” as the play continued, and by the time we got to the post Players segments, he was “firing on all cylinders,” showing us the subtext of blind ambition and cautious fear and incautious evil, even pleasantly surprising with a few of his choices.

But, truth to tell, when Mr. Felten makes his first glowering entrance, he had me with his first line. This wasn’t a Hamlet who “couldn’t make up his mind,” it was a Hamlet in the middle of a tense political situation, fully aware he should have succeeded his father, fully aware the portents and “messages from beyond” could be lies and temptations, fully calculating ways to get to the truth, justifications both legal and moral for any actions he may take. It was a Hamlet surrounded by betrayal, yet helpless before his own anger and affections.

A choice I liked was the decision to keep in the Reynaldo scene. This is usually one of the first scenes cut in any production, but it is short and important – it shows us a Polonius who is fully in command of his situation, fully political, fully willing to do “whatever it takes” to achieve his ends. Without it, Polonius is only a doddering fool, capable only of comic relief. While, admittedly, this can work and is often the easiest choice, I believe it makes him a much less interesting character, makes his death much less shocking and layered. As I said above, I loved every moment of Tony Brown’s performance. He finds more than the usual quota of comic moments, but, more to the point, doesn’t make them seem out of place. He’s not afraid to show the darker side of the character, and manages to make his (probably well-deserved) death shocking and moving. I loved everything he did.

More problematic for me were Amee Vyas’ choices as Ophelia. I really liked the wide-eyed innocence she brought to the role, the sense that not only has this Ophelia never done “it” with Hamlet, she probably has little conception of what “it” really is. I loved her interplay with Laertes, I was convinced these two were loving and squabbling siblings. Truth to tell, she also acquits herself well in the “mad” scenes, though to a slightly lesser degree. My problem was there seemed to be a “disconnect” between the two Ophelia’s. We never see the transition between the sane and bubbly girl of the first half, and the pitiable madwoman of the second. Usually, the “Get thee to the Nunnery” scene gives the actress the impetus to make that transition, to show us how the political and emotional maelstrom that falls on her head is too much for her. But here, I never got that sense. I’m not even sure if these suggestions could make it work better – more surprise at Hamlet’s actions, more dread at what’s being asked of her by King and Father, more regret at returning the “love tokens” she wants so much keep – any of these would help, all were missing from the performance I saw.

I was also vaguely disappointed by Daniel Parvis’ choice to play the gravedigger with a lisp. It added nothing to the character, made the lines more difficult to understand, and seemed to be a not-so-comic “bit” pulled out of the bag of tricks to add low humor to what was already a funny scene. Of course, being Daniel Parvis, he pulled it off for the most part. Still, it was an irritating choice that didn’t really pay off for me.

As all “Hamlet’s” usually are, this was an “edited” version. Director Drew Reeves made some good cuts, making the evening flow smoothly, without neglecting the Fortinbras sub-plot, and keeping the action running briskly. It’s intriguing that one of my favorite speeches wasn’t there (“Now all occasions do inform against me”) and I didn’t miss it. This production is well over three hours (despite what the lobby signs say), but it is a fast three hours. I never found my attention flagging, even when (name withheld) was in a scene. The first half is livened with many comic moments, the intrigues of Claudius truly drive the second half, and the evening is wrapped up with a fine sword-fight filled with testosterone and poison and justice.

So, even with the quibbles I’ve talked about (and, of course, there are more), this is a fine production well worth your time. Matt Felten is one of the best Hamlet’s I’ve seen, Tony Brown is THE best Polonius, and Drew Reeves has edited and directed the text in a fast-paced compelling production that never makes you regret the passing silence.

Now that that is said and done, I guess I can truthfully say, that the rest is silence.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Something’s [a little] rotten in the state of Georgia
by OctoberSundance
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
4.0
The 2008-2009 Tavern season has followed an interesting trend thus far. It seems as though the productions of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, such as the "Henry VI" trilogy, have been tour de forces, while the more popular plays failed to deliver. February’s "Romeo and Juliet" was a disappointment, and now "Hamlet," while more successful, isn’t quite living up to expectations either. Perhaps the gamble of producing “the world’s greatest play” has placed the Prince of Denmark and his crew atop an unreachable pedestal, leaving hyped audiences unsatisfied when perfection isn’t achieved.

This is not to say that "Hamlet" is poorly done. The staging is beautiful, as is the costuming, and the lighting is tasteful and effective. Acting is what makes or breaks a play, and this production is chock-full of flubbed lines, flat deliveries and characters breathing heavily after being slain (I’m looking at you, Nick Faircloth). For a handful of reasons, this "Hamlet" seems to have fallen somewhere below the level of quality that is the Tavern’s trademark.

Matt Felten, a gifted comedian, proves his versatility as the title character, and his performance is among the better ones. Amee Vyas is sweetly heartbreaking as the doomed Ophelia, and Travis Smith, who needs to perform at the Tavern more often, completely captures the audience in his major scene, where his Ghost of King Hamlet reveals the truth about his death. On the lighter side, Daniel Parvis is on hand to provide plenty of comic relief in multiple roles, and Tony Brown’s Polonius is alternately goofy and manipulative, making his untimely death a bittersweet one.

Maurice Ralston and Laura Cole are here too, playing husband and wife for the 85629th time. These two have been in or involved with just about every Tavern show so far this season –- heck, they were the only ones in "Doctor Faustus" -– and it seems as though the burden of all these commitments is finally catching up to them. Neither is remarkable, despite the fact that Claudius and Gertrude are two of the most intense roles in Shakespeare’s folio. Someone needs to send this duo on a three-week vacation right now so they can rest, rejuvenate and return ready to re-enthrall us with their usual brilliance.

Oh, and the play is long . . . very, very long . . . running well over three hours, when all is said and done. Thankfully, someone -– usually Felten, Brown, Parvis or Doug Graham, whose understated Horatio deserves more credit -– always arrives onstage just in time to save the show before it descends into tedium.

There is a reason why Shakespeare’s words have survived and thrived for centuries. The themes are universal, the humor is timeless, and his ability to appeal to people of all beliefs and backgrounds is worthy of the highest accolades. When Shakespeare is performed well, it’s explosive. But a litany of distractions that shouldn’t be seen in anything more advanced than a high school production (e.g. breathing corpses, incomprehensibly slurred speech, breaking character to laugh at a fellow actor –- which happens a few times among members of the ensemble) immediately takes the audience out of the show. And once attention is diverted, it is almost impossible to get back, no matter how powerful the script. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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