Fresh prince of Denmark
That angst-ridden youth Hamlet has known myriad incarnations, and most people think they’re familiar with Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, even if all they’ve seen is the musical version done as parody on Gilligan’s Island.
At last, here’s a truly fresh prince: Hamlet as a smart, confused, angry and grieving young man much like many others, with less oration and more action. Theater Galatea has not only simplified the casting—four actors in 11 roles—and cut the time on Hamlet from butt-numbingly long to a swift, less-than two hours, but it’s also cut straight to the heart of the story.
With an emphasis on clarity and aided by the significant acting chops (P. Joshua Laskey, who also adapted the play, as Hamlet; Jessica Goldman Laskey; Blair Leatherwood; and Kellie Yvonne Raines in all the rest of the roles), the smart, dark humor in Shakespeare’s writing peeks through, and the entire tale takes on an immediacy that, frankly, makes it possible to be surprised.
In fact, it’s possible to forget for a while that they all end up dead.
A bare stage, props laid out on a table, and four chairs make up the set. Costuming is also minimal—black all around—and the actors rely on the use of prop markers to indicate who they are playing at any given moment. It’s far less confusing than it might seem: “Top hat” is Polonius, and the transformation is so complete that “tiara” means Gertrude, fully and completely, even though both parts are played by Raines. The same is true for Leatherwood’s Claudius and his ghostly brother (crown, of course, and skeleton gloves, respectively), and Goldman Laskey’s Laertes (red sash) and Ophelia (flowered headband).
What makes it work, though, is an incredibly talented, proficient and collaborative cast. They directed each other, an unusual decision that might have gone very badly wrong and instead resulted in palpable stage chemistry—so much so that we want to yell at Hamlet to stop treating his mother so badly; he’s making her cry.
It is this immediacy that makes theater work, of course. And Theater Galatea’s production of Hamlet is full-immersion 3-D. No glasses needed.