Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 28, 2009


Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 28, 2009
by Karolina Sadowicz

"To be or not to be" is the question first asked by Hamlet as the play opens with flashes of light and thundering electricity. Director Eleanor Holdridge's stark staging opens with Hamlet facing his mortality; the play performed is the last days of the prince's life flashing before his eyes.

Staged with minimal props and simple, tailored costumes, "Hamlet" offers no distractions from the superb work by the small ensemble cast. The set is bare and black, with only inventive lighting and the actors creating a setting. Music is used well to enhance the atmosphere, but at times other sound effects are jarring and overwhelming.

Dennis Krausnick's Polonius shines a light on humor often overlooked in this play, and garners big laughs for his verbose manner and misguided assesment of Hamlet's motivation. Jason Asprey as Hamlet is mournful, introspective, and hot-tempered, but also playful and even warm. Amid his cerebral wrangling with the self, the prince of Denmark shows believeable tenderness towards those he loves, and plays at madness with humor and sharp timing. The surprising levity of some scenes enhances the poignancy of others, reserving the highest intensity for moments where it belongs. At times, Asprey turns up the volume where subtlety would work best, but overall his performance is textured and human.

Claudius, the murderous king, is slick and cocky in the hands of Nigel Gore, sporting a pinstripe suit and an earring. He struts with confidence and without conscience, and given the opportunity shows such relish at his own villainy that even he is horrified. In a brilliant twist of staging "Hamlet's" play within a play, the king and queen are coaxed into acting out their parts in the previous king's death with unintentional gusto.

Johnny Lee Davenport steals the show in a chilling turn as the ghost, and equally hilarious moments as a traveling actor and gravedigger. Elizabeth Raetz is a simple but haunting Ophelia.

This swift-paced no-frills production underscores the power and complexity of "Hamlet." Each actor is outstanding and delivers a performance that is visceral, accessible, and timeless - Shakespeare at his best.