For the first time is more than fifty years, IU’s Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center hosts Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The production with its attention to individual characters and performance details clearly owes a lot to director Murray McGibbon. He’s also a key figure in the adaptation of the text. It was very intelligently done, with a lot of attention to making the speeches clear and intelligible without dumbing them down. I’m assuming that McGibbon’s own background led to the panto style staging of the players’ comic version of the murder of Hamlet’s father. The scenic design by Fred Duer is a really neat one with huge dark triangular stair cases that can move smoothly from being foggy battlements to elements in a brightly lighted ball room. Linda Pisano’s costume design looked good on everyone and did a nice job of fitting the characters in a coherent but not particular historical period style. Andrew Hopson’s sound design with the music by Mark Oliveiro was a continual and effective part of the atmospherics of the play.
Josh Hambrock was effective as Hamlet’s usurping Uncle Claudius. In this production he’s more of a politician, a manipulator than a full out bad person. In his general attitude of restraint there seemed to be an almost weariness of evil.
Bethany Barber as Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude was dressed a bit sexy for an older woman, but never seemed to connect with her own physicality. Hamlet may have thought that his mother’s motives included lust, but it wasn’t in evidence here. Maybe Hamlet was just angry and grasping for insults. It was interesting to learn that in this heavily guarded castle, the Queen slept with a loaded pistol under her pillow.
Justine Salata was charming as the innocent Ophelia, but in a show that benefits from heavy cutting, halving her mad scene would have been a good idea. With her wild hair and disheveled dress, the audience got it pretty quickly and after that it was just repetition.
Neal Utterback had some delightful moments as the silly counselor Polonius, but some one needs to tell him that stage actors have to yell and that his signature of awkwardly crooked fingers could be effectively kept in his pocket about three fourths of the time. I did think that the little visual pun at his death, curtains for Polonius, was a neat piece of staging.
Hamlet’s school friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern– Ryan Dooley and Mark Banik, dressed in matching knee socks and sort of school uniforms, were played half the time as buffoons and the other half of the time as reasonable young friends and foils for Hamlet. Both sort of ok.
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most complex ditherer is Harper Jones’ MFA role. It was a solid and varied performance across a long and varied evening. There was a good job on the oft remembered speeches, which were frequently staged directly to the audience. Jones had a nice touch of manly bonhomie in his initial relations with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with the players and most of all with Horatio. He was most attractive in the antic moments of Hamlet. Jones has a handsome body, but I did keep wishing that he’d put on his shirt for the tumultuous scene in his mother’s bed room.
Horatio, Hamlet’s friend was played by Graham Sheldon. It’s hard to figure this, but he’s the center of this production. Horatio is the one who comes to tell Hamlet of the ghost’s appearance. He’s around for many of the crucial scenes and he’s the person who takes Hamlet’s final speech and does the valedictory. Graham Sheldon with a certain calm strength, just really did a terrific job here. His performance and really those of everyone in the big cast are ones in which the actors can think back on, savor and take pride.
“Hamlet” in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre continues with evening performances through Friday. On Saturday there is a two o’clock matinee and an evening performance.