Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 16, 2014
by Phil O’Donoghue
In the Hartford Stage production of Hamlet there is a moment in Act III when Hamlet is giving the Players advice before their Court performance. He beseeches the troupe to, “…suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” One cannot help but think, while watching Zach Appleman’s superbly controlled performance in the title role, that that was precisely director Darko Tresnjak’s advice for his leading man, and the production as a whole.
Appleman is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and his standout performance reflects the rigorous discipline that school of acting promotes. Many actors choose to convey Hamlet’s descent into madness – or fake madness - with manic displays of energy, stressing huge gestures, and physicality. Not so Appleman; his performance is so well thought-out, so disciplined, that when he does choose a gesture - a turn of the head, a feint to the center, a finger slashing across his throat – the audience reacts as if he has just screamed.
Darko Tresnjak’s mark on this Hamlet starts with his own scenic vision for the show: a runway with a short stage at each end, like a large letter I. The runway is lit from below, which allows the texture of the scenes to change with each location. It is brilliantly spare, and the lighting design by Matthew Richards only adds to the vision of the play.
Andrew Long’s performance as Claudius, Hamlet’s scheming uncle, is appropriately evil, yet also rough around the edges. He manages to find empathy in a decidedly unsympathetic character. Kate Forbes’ performance as Gertrude is seamless. In the role of Polonius, Edward James Hyland provides the audience with some wonderfully comedic moments that break up the almost unrelenting tension of the show.
Two performers stand out in particular: James Seoul, portraying Horatio, is a charismatic and riveting actor who also makes his debut at the Hartford Stage. One hopes it won’t be his last. And Brittany Vicars as Ophelia is a true find. Her character’s own descent into madness is spellbinding, as Vicars sings her lines in high, trilling voice, foreshadowing her own tragic end.