Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2019

Review: Barrington Stage Company, “Gertrude and Claudius”

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 3, 2019
by Stacie Beland

Photo by Daniel Rader
Barrington Stage Company has created an absolute masterpiece with their presentation of “Gertrude and Claudius,” a new play by Mark St. Germain based on the novel by John Updike. The story takes place prior to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” wherein Hamlet plots to avenge the murder of his father, killed by his mother (Gertrude) and uncle (Claudius), who have engaged in a treasonous love affair.

“Gertrude and Claudius” allows us to see the characters as their relationship blossoms, and Hamlet is largely absent—though referenced frequently. It is a love story as only Updike could write:  A woman who goes through the motions of life, she becomes desperately bored by her husband and enthralled by his brother and feels particularly distant and removed from her son. Gertrude endlessly works on a tapestry of Hamlet, a monument to her dissatisfaction and the rote nature of her life. She finds true passion, a true awakening, in her relationship with her husband’s brother. Though they both try to deny themselves the relationship, they seem to only find joy in one another—first in writing letters, then engaging in flirtatious moments when Claudius visits Elsinore.

The production itself is a technical marvel: the scenic design, lighting, music, choreography, costuming, and puppetry are stunning. Julianne Boyd’s direction is clean and precise and allows the splendid acting of Kate Maccluggage (Gertrude) and Elijah Alexander (Claudius) to shine. As the title couple, the audience cannot help but fall in love with their evident passion, despite knowing how the story will end. Douglas Rees as King Amleth is tremendous as a man who is inherently good but recognizes and is devastated by the fact that his brother’s passion and zeal make for a better match to his wife. Nick Lamedica as both Hamlet and Yorick has little stage time (though it is nice to see Yorick alive and well, as opposed to his role as a skull in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”), but his presence is constantly felt throughout the show. Rocco Sisto and Mary Stout as Polonius and Herda, respectively, provide both comic relief and tender moments of understanding. Greg Thornton as King Rorick, Gertrude’s father, does a lovely job in setting up the general sense of foreboding and impending inevitable death.

To miss this show would be a tragedy on par with the one that we see unfold onstage.