Monthly Archive for: ‘September, 2017’

Hamlet rocks the foundations but is a long haul at A.C.T.

                                                                                 John Douglas Thompson as Hamlet at A.C.T. THROUGH OCTOBER15, 2017

HAMLET: Tragedy by William Shakespeare. Directed by Carey Perloff. American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), A.C.T.’s Geary Theater,415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. 415.749.2228 or September 20–October 15, 2017.

Hamlet rocks the foundations but is a long haul at A.C.T.

To be cast in the lead role of Hamlet is the dream of many thespians. So it is with classical trained John Douglas Thompson who gave a star performance in the solo show Satchmo at the Waldorf on the same stage where his dream is being fulfilled. His is a forceful interpretation of the melancholy Dane who is driven to madness after the ghost of his father, the former King of Denmark, demands revenge for being murdered by Claudius (John Earl Jones who doubles as the ghost). He is further incensed that Claudius has married his mother Queen Gertrude (Domenique Lozano) only months after his father’s death. 

Thompson’s diction is perfect for Shakespearean dialog but under Carey Perloff’s direction the variation of speech lacks nuance. He displays pent up and actual anger throughout rather than allowing his melancholy to slowly build to the crescendo displayed in later scenes. In those later scenes Thompson is magnificent.

It has been said that it would take five hours to stage Hamlet as written. Director Carey Perloff and her creative staff have pared the text for a three hour and 20 minute production including the intermission. They have decided on modern dress without regard for a specific era. In fact there does not seem to be a reason for the multiple styles of dress. A most egregious conceit, and there are many, are the flamboyant costumes for Guildenstern (Vincent J. Randazzo) and Rosencrantz (Teddy Spencer) that dilutes the impact in Claudius’ plot to have Hamlet killed on arriving in England.

All this plays out on a massive gray set (David Israel Reynoso ) reflecting deterioration and malfeasance. A huge garage door slams up and down for entrances and exits. In contrast the palace scenes are set apart with sheer white curtains with modernistic gold chandeliers appropriately raised and lowered for specific actions.  There are other idiosyncrasies built into the set that are too many to specifically mention. A glaring exception is the built in cold storage morgue body locker used to bring Ophelia’s body back on stage.

But as Hamlet decrees, “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” This version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy dripping with revenge and action is well worth a visit with the pluses outweighing the minuses. Supporting John Douglas Thompson’s control of the stage are the performances by those around him. Domenique Lozano as Queen Gertrude is a marvel to observe with her rapt attention, facial and body responses. The kiss that she bestows on the distraught Hamlet late in play is a stunner.

Dan Hiatt as the nattering Polonius (in the role he played in the 2010 CalShakes staging) grabs your attention with humor beginning with an early scene offering advice to his son Laertes (Teagle F. Bougere): “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  Steven Anthony Jones as Claudius/Ghost gives a solid interpretation with distinction during Claudius’ dialog with his conscience. Rivka Borek as Ophelia has the difficult task of being taken seriously while clothe in see through apparel. The usual stellar acting Anthony Fusco is subverted by Perloff’s direction and the meaningful line as he holds Hamlet’s dead body, “Goodnight sweet Prince.” Barely goes beyond the footlights.

The play sizzles when the travelling players arrive and again in the graveyard scene when Graham Beckel as Player King and Grave digger 1 dominates the stage. The acting of the play with in a play and Perloff’s direction for the pivotal scene is another highlight.

Sadly the fight direction for the dueling scene is amateurish diluting the fact that the stage is littered with corpses. Using the final scene where Fortinbras (Jomar Tagatac) returns to take over Denmark dilutes the impact of the play.

Recommendation: Should see but can be missed.

CAST: John Douglas Thompson, Hamlet; Graham Beckel as Player King and Grave digger 1;  Rivka Borek as Ophelia; Teagle F. Bougere as Laertes/Lucianus; Peter Fanone multiple roles; Anthony Fusco as Horatio; Dan Hiatt as Polonius; Steven Anthony Jones as Claudius/Ghost; Domenique Lozano as Gertude;  Adrianna Mitchell as Voltemand/Player Queen;  Vincent J. Randazzo as Guildenstern and others; Teddy Spencer as Rosencrantz and others; and Jomar Tagatac as Fortinbras.

CREATIVE TEAM: James F. Ingalls (Lighting Designer), David Israel Reynoso (Scenic and Costume Designer), and Jake Rodriguez (Sound Designer). Original music written by David Coulter

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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