Slings and arrows
Goodluck Macbeth’s production of Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet, opens with a funeral procession. Mourners march in front of the first row—two steps forward, one step back—before filing on to the stage. The procession is an apt metaphor for the production as a whole. While there is much to like in the performance, it occasionally undermines its own efforts.
The challenge of playing the lead goes to Scott Reeves, who is a capable Hamlet, more jocular than contemplative, yet still able to display the emotional agility required of the role. During the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, he moves nimbly from sorrow to contemplation to despair, then effectively transitions into anger for the “get thee to a nunnery” confrontation.
The encounter that follows between Hamlet and Ophelia (Dalia E. Gerdel) provides one of the more interesting moments of the play. As the prince berates Ophelia, blindfolded creatures appear at the edge of the stage, crawl toward her and reach for her dress, a visual representation of the madness that is starting to close in on her. By the time Ophelia goes mad in act four, these creatures literally carry her off the stage.
The relationship between Ophelia and Laertes (Linda Noveroske) is one of the play’s highlights. Their interaction early on as they listen to their father’s advice is endearing, and their final scene together, as Laertes confronts his sister’s madness, is the most moving moment of the play.
In order to pare down the play to a tidy two and a half hours, the political subplot involving Fortinbras has been jettisoned, as has Claudius’ attempt to send his stepson to England. While this eliminates one of Shakespeare’s more ridiculous plot devices (the prince returns to Denmark because pirates just happen to take him captive), it also robs the play of one its more chilling moments—the execution of Rosencrantz (Greg Lintz) and Guildenstern (Stefani Estep) by Hamlet’s command. What the play gains in economy it loses in complexity. Rather than a prince both sensitive and callous, crass and refined, we’re left with one that is primarily noble, displaying little of the royal disdain that has made him one of literature’s most enigmatic characters.
Though a tragedy, Hamlet has many humorous moments, owing mainly to the quick wit of the Danish prince and the buffoonery of many supporting characters. It’s here the performance shines. Phil Harriman is appealingly pedantic as Polonius, his bombast and bluster visibly irritating not only the King and Queen, but even his servant Reynaldo. Childhood pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are presented as dull, one-dimensional sycophants, more concerned with how often they should bow than the reason for Hamlet’s lunacy.
The critical moment of the performance comes during the play-within-a-play scene. This is when the young prince decides to have players reenact the king’s murder in an effort to confirm his guilt. Director Jon Lutz keeps the majority of the scene lighthearted, filling it with jugglers, cartwheels and other diversions. It moves at such a fast clip, however, that the reenactment of the murder seems hasty, hardly enough to provoke Claudius’ quick exit. The second half of the performance displays the same attributes, sometimes glossing over poignant moments, like Yorick’s skull, as it races toward its conclusion. Still, while the production may not always be a “palpable hit,” it is often a satisfactory one.