Review: Playing Hamlet Like No One Is Watching

Chris Peterson

The role of Hamlet is a study in internal conflict. The greatest dramatic role ever written struggles through the entire play with an internal battle going on in his head. Whether it's fear of action, struggling over his love for his mother, his distrust with Ophelia or his own self-doubt, the battle lines are drawn in every scene. 

The production currently running at the Bijou Theatre deals with this internal struggle and proposes the idea that devolving into madness doesn't happen in loud displays but rather in quiet intimacy. We are not an audience watching a play, because they're not performing one.

Instead they're showing the self-destruction of a Prince and we just happened to be in the room. 

Director Mat Young has chosen to present a more self-reflective version of Hamlet. It isn't as loud or intense as I've seen it done before. Mr. Young seems to want the torture and conflict to come from the inside and for the most part, stay there. And while this strategy certainly produces some of the most fleshed out performances of these roles I've seen, it also creates moments so subtle, they're barely readable from the second row. Mr. Young tries to draw us in to see and hear what is going on rather than projecting it. The result are scenes that should be more riveting, more palpable. Moments that should be downstage are often thrown up against the back wall, literally. 

The company of actors is a kaleidoscope of talents. Jeremy Funke presents a Hamlet who is rife with contradictions - reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious. Funke has a strong enough grasp on the character to play up these up with skill. What his performance lacks in fierceness, it makes up for in intelligence. 

The Bijou Theatre, Photo: Kevin McNair

The Bijou Theatre, Photo: Kevin McNair

 As Gertrude, Leigh Katz produces a woman who is shallow and emoting very little until it is too late. It's a thought provoking and engaging performance. John R. Smith makes some wise choices with Clauidius as well. 

Lynnette Victoria provides a strong performance as Ophelia but her moments were examples of where the turmoil is deep, that it was often hard to see and hear. 

Mr. Young admirably takes plenty of chances with this production, some of them work(Hamlet's father and the Lead Player concept), others do not(staging of Horatio). 

Julie Thaxter-Gourlay and Mr Young himself are fun to watch as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which only builds the anticipation to see them play those roles in the other production. 

As I mentioned above, thanks to Mr. Young and the talent of the cast, you can see the due diligence and study with these roles. So there are some excellent moments from the entire company, which includes Justine Weisinger, Kevin McGuire, Sam Mink, Chloe Parrington, Ryan Shea, Rob Pawlikowski and Kate Fletcher. 

But where there is excellence in the details, some gets lost in the entire scope of the production, for instance, the setting of the play. I am all for transposing Shakespeare to modern times, but there has to be a definitive reason why. Other than the use of guns and costuming, I couldn't find one here.

So while this production might not be stunning or grandiose, it is intriguing and will certainly spark debate among its audience.

Which is what Hamlet should do every time.