It’s shockingly rare to be able to actually catch a professional production of the most famous play ever written, but you have an excellent chance to do that right now at the REP in Newark, DE. A perfect production of this play is impossible, and this is no exception. However, the goods of this production far outweigh its weaknesses, and there are certainly no complaints about the script.
I admit to being confused when I began to read promotional materials regarding this production, way back when the season was first announced, and the emphasis was all on the design team that had been assembled. The moment I walked into the theatre, my confusion was quelled – the set is absolutely breathtaking. Imposing, stark, and complex without being distracting, the space immediately was unsettling and ominous. There was a beautiful use of a grave-sized opening in the front of the stage, from which the Ghost occasionally emerged and Ophelia was buried, but over-use in other moments reduced its effectiveness. Lighting in the ghost scenes and in the intermission was excellent, although I must say that throughout the rest of the play it seemed uneven and functional at best.
When critiquing the performances at the REP, the baseline is excellence, a point I always make when reviewing their productions before getting to specifics. In New Castle county, it is nearly impossible to find performances as you will at the REP, an ever strengthening group of actors, made all the better by their growth as a company. Specific accolades in this production go to the always-excellent Stephen Pelinski, playing Claudius, who seems to be having the hottest streak over the last year of any actor I’ve seen; Elizabeth Heflin as Gertrude, delivering the most subtle and believable queen I’ve seen that is completely unaware of Claudius’ treachery, and Steve Tague as the bumbling Polonius.
I can hear you thinking – four paragraphs in, why hasn’t he even mentioned Michael Gotch as Hamlet yet? I will admit that this performance does have the misfortune of being my most anticipated one of the year, and I had very high hopes. While Gotch is commendable as the melancholy Dane, he seemed to never quite decide on who Hamlet really is. One of the great delights of this play is that the role can be interpreted many different ways by the actor playing him, but Gotch seems to decide on none of them, presenting a different Hamlet from moment to moment. Director Mark Lamos, who has a long familiarity with the play and presented the most dynamic and heartbreaking interpretation of Ophelia I’ve ever seen, fails to guide Gotch to a solid interpretation on the role and thus an excellent production has at best a shaky foundation.
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Mark Lamos
Through March 17, 2013
Resident Ensemble Players, University of Delaware
Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE 19716