By James V. Ruocco
("Hamlet" William Shakespeare)
One of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, "Hamlet" is a play about uncertainty, revenge, corruption, murder and betrayal. As the play begins, the title character is visited by the ghost of his father who tells his son that he was murdered by his brother Claudius who now sits on the throne of Denmark beside Queen Gertrude, Hamet's mother.
Is this the truth? Is it a lie? Or are the ghost's accusations about Hamlet's father riddled with uncertainty and doubt?
The apparent madness of this situation - fueled by the on-stage deaths of several characters - bring moments of intense power and strength to Brookfield Theatre for the Arts triumphant staging of this Shakespearean classic and its inbred hysteria, irony, investigation and entrapment.
It is easily one of the best dramatic productions of the 2022 local theatre season.
This tale of the doomed Danish price flourishes with lofty rhetoric and aggressive spirit.
It is paced with righteous rage and dark humor.
It is intelligent and emotional.
It is both clever and hypnotic.
It digs deep with the craftiness of an edgy, gothic thriller.
It swirls and pivots with tabloid sensationalism.
It is a penetrating work full of ideas, excitement and underlying depth.
As with "Macbeth," also staged at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, this "Hamlet" suits the thrilling take of director Jane Farnol's retooled and edited adaptation. Accessorized and hand-scrubbed to remain a top priority in its edited framework, this production not only retains its anticipated flashes of darkness, humor and conceptual horror, but smartly unfolds with easy-to-understand interplay, momentum, characterization and gloom and doom.
Here, the cool logic of Farnol's staging is voiced with mark, wickedness, surprise and dagger-precise inventiveness. As both storyteller and director, she gives this "Hamlet" is strong sense of fluidity and flow. Yes, passages are missing or condensed. Yes, some of the supporting characters have less to do. But the bulk of the story, its rage, its morality and its deception are front and center, diced and spliced with important moments of dominance, vengeance, honor and rationale.
As actress herself, Farnol utilizes actor-audience focalization to full advantage here, thus, bringing a one-on-one level of expression to the piece. Using various directorial lenses and perspectives to mold and shape the "Hamlet" story, she acknowledges the complexity of the individual characters, their interaction within the framework of the tragedy, their different points of view, their surprise or about-face motives and the trigger point that things not always appear as they seem.
This conceit brings wall-to-wall tension and extended thrust and seriousness to the production and its full-on exposition. Pacing is also important here. And, as with her previous staging of "Macbeth" Farnol makes the right choices in terms of effect, slide and glide, timespan, assimilation and summation. In turn, this "Hamlet" is abundant with life, struggle, conversation and numbing exactness.
In the title role of Hamlet, a strapping and commanding Thomas Samuels moves about the intimate Brookfield venue stage with charisma, distress, negotiation and force, completely and naturally engulfed in the language, the purpose, the corruption and the execution of this Shakespearean tragedy.
As an actor, he's likeable. He's electric. He's passionate. He's dominant. He's charismatic. He pushes boundaries. He's every inch the tortured prince.
He also turns Hamlet's famous soliloquy into a bone-chilling, timely account of reflection, pondering the great mysteries of life, death and the unknown. It's a speech or actor moment if you prefer, full of insight, opinion and deep conflict expressed by Samuels with fresh, inspired injection, raise, dare and theatricality.
Lou Okell, in the role of the Player King, invests her lightweight, comical characterization with the liberating delight of an Old Globe Theatre trained actress and performer. Jane Farnol, as Danish soldier Barnardo, comes to "Hamlet" well versed in the presentation, the performance and the language of the Bard. As Gertrude, Maureen Gallagher is in fine form. Miles Everett and Jennifer Wallace stand out in their respective roles of Claudius and Ophelia. As Horatio, Sean Latessa eases comfortably and attentively into the role of Hamlet's confidante and faithful friend.
One of the best plays of 2022, "Hamlet," at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, solidifies the greatness of Shakespeare's legacy, its language, its storytelling, its searing effects and consequences and its sadness of hindsight. It is a fittingly welcomed production of richness and one that director Jane Farnol crafts with nuance, command and dedication.
It is also an important dramatic work framed by the well-rounded performances of a very dedicated Shakespearean cast who not only drive the action forward but haunt and taunt through moments of well-orchestrated madness and sanity, using a collective howl and controlled tone befitting the tragedy of "Hamlet" itself, its debate, its decision and indecision and its bloodied walk on the wild side.