Fringe review: 'Hamlet'
By Celia Wren
Monday, July 23, 2012
Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! The 90-minute, six-actor “Hamlet” mounted by We Happy Few Productions practically invites theatergoers to join in Ophelia’s lament. For it is the premise of this interesting and hyper-watchable Capital Fringe Festival offering that the doings at Elsinore are, in whole or part, unspooling inside the disordered brain of the Danish prince.
To that end, director Hannah Todd’s impressively brisk, artfully edited, modern-dress staging sometimes features Hamlet (Chris Genebach) crouched onstage, eavesdropping with horrified fascination on conversations that should be occurring beyond his earshot. At other times, the action takes a hallucinatory turn: The prince concludes a rebuke of Rosencrantz (Raven Bonniwell) and Guildenstern (the excellent Billy Finn) by murdering them both (he chokes the former with a recorder), only to have them revive.
Later, he kneels next to Claudius (James Whalen) during the king’s failed attempt at prayer -- and he’s a witness as Ophelia’s coffin morphs into a doorway that admits the courtier Osric (Bonniwell, who also plays Ophelia).
Nifty as these dreamscape moments are, the production’s conceit is inherently problematic: A psychotic Hamlet who is imagining a nightmarish soap opera is, after all, less interesting than a Hamlet who is acting, reacting, and failing to act in the face of real disillusionment, grief and moral quandaries. And perhaps because Genebach is playing a character in need of serious psychiatric attention, his man-in-black sometimes seems to lack a coherent through-line. Still, this Hamlet is seductive in different ways at different times: when he’s a nervous wreck on the verge of tears (his first exchange with Gertrude, portrayed by Sandy Bainum); when he’s crafty and sardonic (taunting Polonius, played by a fine Gordon Adams); and when he’s violent.
And, boy, does he get to be violent in his duel with Laertes (Finn), which fight director Casey Kaleba has turned into a gripping bout of hand-to-hand combat. Talk about the mind-body connection.