Now we have Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as Jane Austen might have crackled it.
Because the Folger Theater Group's Home, so luxuriously atmospheric, is small, director Jonathan Alper's wise approach is quiet, even polite. Because Bob Wojewodski's costumes suggest the early 19th Century, the image swiftly received is of Austen's mannered, bright-talking characters, especially those of "Mansfield Park."
In this style and period, Hamlet suggests one of Jane's vivid contemporaries. Lord Byron, if you can imagine an indecisive Byron, filled with words, ferious poetic words, and the terrible consciousness that much as King claudius may deserve it, one simply doesn't kill one's uncle.
Adding to the "Mansfield Park" parallel are the Players' scenes, the actors in this travelling troupe are rather $99(word illegible) purposely affected fellows who make you think of the efforts of those ambitious house guests, the Crawfords, to stage "Lovers' Vows" while Mansfield Park's owner, Sir Thomas, is thought to be thousands of miles away. Don't look for plot parallels, but observe the Austen style and manners in this "Hamlet."
The effect throughout is uncannily discreet. The mottled ghost of Hamlet's father is muffled, his speech unclear. So how can Hamlet know why he's come back? Peter Vogt's Claudius is hardly the type to lift a finger to murder his brother. In the prayer scene, after he kneels and crosses himself, one is shocked to find that Claudius admits "my words fly up, my thoughts remain below." The guy is guilty!
Mikel Lambert is all well-spoken manners as Gertrude and, like Jane's Lady Bertram, she seems not to have a clue about what's been going on: that her second husband murdered her first. I don't know what Austen would have done about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Eric Zwemer and John Neville-Anderson play the pair like two strangers assigned by MI-5 to tail Napoleon after Waterloo.
These observations are not intended to decry Alper's choices. Considering the problem, he has been astute to think of "Hamlet" as "closet drama," to aim for soft tones and genteel gestures.
The treatment, indeed, perhaps emphasizes the play's power and flow. There are two intermissions, the Folger's Act II starting with the accepted Act III, scene 2, its Act III beginning with Act IV, scene 5.
To its credit, the Folger is giving us almost a full-length "Hamlet," 3 1/2 hours, with the Fortinbras scenes and Osric included. Only occasional speeches and lines are dropped here and there along the way.
And, of course, the stage is littered with the dead after the Hamlet-Laertes duel, well choreographed by the Hamlet, Michael Tolaydo. He varies the soliloquies well and you may get to accept his rather brooding tone --Hamlet can duel.
Albert Corbin is not afraid of the Polonius pomposity, though I found the others' disdain for him a bit coy. Terry Hinz is becoming a fine comic, doubling as the Player King and First Gravedigger; he would do well to disguise himself better, however. Allan Carlsen's Horatio is a mite supercilious because his voice lacks tonal variation. Within their contexts, Lambert and Vogt are elegantly assured as Gertrude and Claudius. The lighting of Paul Gallo is most effective and William Penn's music matches the rather cheeky air Margaret Whitton brings to Ophelia.
It is a welcome chance to see the world's greatest play and if this nudges you along to read Jane Austen so much the better.