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A Timely Classical Hamlet at Cal Shakes
California Shakespeare’s final play this season offers a spirited and meaningful Hamlet that takes hold of spectators from beginning to the tragic end of what probably is Shakespeare’s most emotionally charged and morally challenging work.
Cal Shakes’ Hamlet depicts a rich number of emotional states such as betrayal, treachery, deception, tyranny, political ambition, injustice, dementia, sexual desire and motherly and parental love. All of these emotional states are over ridden by Hamlet’s drive for revenge for his father’s unjust death. This version (directed by Liesl Tommy) centering upon a son’s avenging a father unjustly killed progresses briskly and elegantly through five acts as though happening in the twenty first century.
In Act One, after we learn of the death of King Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet to inform him he was poisoned by his brother Claudius (performed with authority by Adrian Roberts) in order to replace him as king and marry his widow Gertrude (interpreted by Julie Eccles with maternal grace and dignity).
In Act Two, Hamlet hesitates to kill his uncle and then thinks of a plan to confirm his uncle’s guilt by requesting actors to play a scene of the poisoning of a king before him. The actors’ scene, played as a farce, is somewhat overextended.
In Act Three, a guilty Claudius sends Hamlet to England with a plan to have him killed that fails. Hamlet meets with his mother and in one of the plays’ most stirring scenes rebukes her for marrying so rapidly after his father’s death. At one point when he hears Polonius (Dan Hiatt) hiding behind a tapestry, thinking it is his uncle eavesdropping, Hamlet stabs Ophelia’s father.
In Act Four, Ophelia goes mad after the loss of her father and Hamlet in a powerfully dramatic scene a bit overplayed by Zainab Jah.
Act Five contains philosophically deep reflections on mortality as a gravedigger (Dan Hiatt in a strong character role creation) digging Ophelia’s grave speaks about death as he pulls out skeleton heads from the earth. At the end of this act Hamlet duels with Ophelia’s brother Laertes (performed by Nicholas Pelczar ) for having argued with Hamlet about his sister’s death being a suicide.
In the play’s tragic end the duel is accomplished with a poisoned sword that Laertes prepared to kill Hamlet and wine containing poison meant for Hamlet that Hamlet’s mother accidentally drinks. Hamlet’s dying words are to Horatio (Nick Gabriel) requesting he tell Hamlet’s story.
California Shakespeare’s Hamlet is as philosophically and morally rich as it is dramatically and lyrically moving. It offers a blend of classicism, through the use of Shakespeare’s text, combined with semi stylized 20th century movement, and a performance in modern dress and on unadorned sets (Clint Ramos) that harmoniously bring human relationships and the dramatic action into our
California Shakespeare Theater’s Hamlet plays until October 21. For information call 510.548.9666 or visit www.calshakes.org