Hamlet at Classic Stage Company
The most famous play in western theater has a lot of everything. Hamlet’s first act alone includes a ghost who’s the victim of a crime of passion, tyranny, imminent war, hints of incest and the questionable sanity of the main character. Shakespeare brings all of these elements together masterfully. The problem is that Hamlet can read better than when seen onstage. Happily, this is not the case in Classic Stage Company’s production, starring Peter Sarsgaard as the Prince of Denmark.
Sarsgaard’s approach to the role is uncomplicated. His Hamlet is a troublemaker, a spoiled brat incapable of love or leadership. His father’s ghost – unseen and unheard at CSC – motivates but never matures him. He delivers the big soliloquies as thinking aloud rather than anticipating audience expectations. The talented, intelligent actor’s naturalness gives Hamlet an unexpectedly different energy, making him a real person instead of an abstraction.
Shakespeare is easily understandable when delivered without affectation. Director Austin Pendleton takes his cue from the text. Unlike past CSC productions where actors have run away with the words and volume, the cast “speaks the speech” while listening to each other. The only histrionics rightly come from the players performing The Murder of Gonzango.
The modern sets and costumes add to the play’s timelessness. Pendleton concentrates on Elsinore court intrigue, not notions of fate. Chief Consul Polonius’ (Stephen Spinella) empty words could be mistaken for that of a blogger trying to sound smart. King Claudius (Harris Yulin), murderer of his brother King Hamlet, also feigns intellect but remains a bully. Gertrude (Penelope Allen), Hamlet’s mother and wife to the past and present kings, is a soulless socialite. Gertrude and Claudius are slightly older in this production, and because there is no place to hide on CSC’s small stage, more hateful than usual.
The emphasis on language allows for a different approach to another character. At the start of this Hamlet, Ophelia (Lisa Joyce) is smart and confident. Slowly and painfully, she is destroyed by her father Polnious’ orders to bait Hamlet, Hamlet’s verbal and physical abuse and his murder of Polonius. She is still a victim but not one of her own making.
There is something new to find in a great work. CSC’s Hamlet offers that opportunity, as does Peter Sarsgaard in this compelling production.
Photos: Classic Stage Company
Hamlet is on at the Classic Stage Company until May 10th 2015, for further information or to book visit here.