Sunday, March 24, 2013

Theater Review: Hamlet -- Yale Rep

Paul Giamatti in Hamlet. Photo © Joan Marcus.
Giamatti Creates a Hamlet for All Generations: To Be or Not to Be Entertained is Not the Question
By Lauren Yarger
For anyone who thinks boring or “to sleep, perchance to dream” when walking into three-and-a-half-hour-long production of Hamlet, think again. With Oscar nominee and Yale Rep alum Paul Giamatti in the title role, this play’s the thing.

Tickets have been flying out of Yale Rep’s Box Office in New Haven to see the production directed by James Bundy (the Rep’s artistic director). It also stars Marc Kudisch, Gerry Bamman and some other names from Broadway and Yale Rep productions in one of the most entertaining trips you’ll ever take to Elsinore...

Giamatti, a little older and less handsome-of-face than most Hamlets these days, brings out the tortured Dane prince’s humorous side and in doing so, engages a younger generation that might not normally think several hours in a theater listening to Shakespeare could be a fun way to spend an evening. It sure is, however, thanks to Bundy’s skill in allowing his actors to find fresh new interpretations while keeping them true to the classic.

Yes Hamlet is brooding, depressed by the hasty marriage of his Uncle, now King Claudius (Kudisch) and mother, Queen Gertrude (Lisa Emery) so soon after his father’s death. Yes, he’s consumed with madness and revenge after the ghost of his father (also Kudisch) tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother. But this Hamlet also is funny. Giamatti gets laughs with everything from exaggerated body language to subtle glances and manages to do it without compromising the dramatic and tragic nature of the play despite the fact that he’s wearing red sneakers with a contemporary looking business suit (Jayoung Yoon, costume design).

He’s not alone. Bamman gives a standout performance as Lord Polonius, father of Hamlet’s love, Ophelia (Brooke Parks), and friend Laertes (Tommy Schrider). He also finds humor while portraying a very much contemporary-sounding father exasperated by the doings of the younger generation.

Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Erik Lochtefeld and Michael Manuel) are more interesting than usual. Bundy lets every character develop to new levels and alows them to shine without eclipsing other characters or the flow of the scene. In fact, this production offers some of the clearest delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue that I have heard in a while. Those who normally get lost in the “perchances,” “softs” and “forsooths” in the iambic pentameter of the Bard’s language won’t have to rely so much on the helpful play synopsis provided in the program, methinks. (The production’s four WILL POWER! morning performances for high school students groups already are sold out. Teachers can contact Ruth M. Feldman at or 203-432-8425 about attending a regular performance.)

The production’s appeal across the generations is due to the entertaining approach to a much loved classic enhanced by creative elements that help tell the story. Sarah Picket composes music played by five musicians housed on the second level of Meredith B. Ries’ towering wooden set that evokes images of a castle and contemporary construction. Panels drop in to create smaller locations for scenes. 

Yoon’s costumes are mostly contemporary, but blend elements that give them the look of the past. Sound and lighting design (Keri Klick, Stephen Strawbridge) bring them to life and provide special effects for the ghost. The production lives up to its role as part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

If you want “to be” entertained, this Hamlet will take a dagger to all other productions you’ve seen. It’s “not to be” missed. It plays at the Unversity Theatre, 222 York St, New Haven through April 13. Tickets ($20-$96) are hard to come by, but you can try at; (203) 432-1234; Box Office (1120 Chapel St., New Haven).

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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