The first time I saw the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s most recent production of Hamlet, I noticed many of the things they cut (the “my thoughts be bloody” speech, the mom kiss, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead”), but it took me 18 months and a second viewing to truly appreciate how much they’ve brought to the table.
This might be the only Hamlet where at intermission your cheeks are sore from laughing (the guffaws peter out, of course, as the bodies pile up). And there’s something deeply winning about the way this cast and crew seem to give “well, if we must…”-style side-eye to performing many of the show’s greatest hits; a wonderful Michael Urie holds up Yorick’s skull like someone dared him to do it. This Danish court is not here to entertain you … which makes them very entertaining.
Directed in 2018 by outgoing creative director Michael Kahn and now stewarded by Craig Baldwin, the show, going on now until July 21, has been revived as part of STC’s irreplaceable Free For All summer tradition — and with more of the original cast than is sometimes available to return. Not just the prince, but Alan Cox’s Claudius, Madeline Potter’s Gertrude, Robert Joy’s Polonius, Frederico Rodriguez’s Horatio, and Keith Baxter’s Ghost/Player King/Gravedigger are all back — and they’re all great.
So since this is a reissue and not a new take, I thought it would be fair to dip into some of my own older work and see if opinions from last year’s review hold up.
“From the leading man on down, the decision has been made to play these Elsinore residents as people first and Shakespeare characters second. You’ve never seen a more energetic take on the title role than Michael Urie’s, but even when he’s leaping around the stage or sprawling across a sofa, Urie reminds us this Dane is a fish out of water.”
Yep. Fresh off the Torch Song revival on Broadway, Urie doesn’t look remotely bored to be returning to this role. He finds punchlines where you don’t expect them, zigs where lesser actors would zag, and holds the crowd without going broad. If you missed him last time around, consider this your personal second chance.
“The minimalist, vaguely totalitarian set by John Coyne and music from Broken Chord both left me cold. The latter is too intrusive, and the former is going for Surveillance State but simply lands on sterile.”
‘Fraid so. Setting Shakespeare in modern times is always a fair call, but this looks like a design choice in search of a philosophy. Let’s retire all the slate-grey granite and stainless steel under florescent light, shall we?
Of course, it isn’t all recycled: Joining in the fun are Ayana Workman, who shone in Romeo & Juliet, as Ophelia, and Paul Deo, Jr., who stole scenes in STC’s Twelfth Night, as Laertes. Both are more than welcome.
This Hamlet was worth its original ticket prices. At $0 a seat now, it’d be silly not to go.