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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 47
Seattle Shakespeare's Hamlet one to cherish
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Shakespeare's Hamlet one to cherish

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Hamlet
Seattle Shakespeare
Company
Through December 5


When you think Shakespeare, you most likely think of either Julius Caesar or Hamlet. Those are the two plays that are most often taught in high school. They are also performed more often than a lot of the rest of Shakespeare's plays. You may have seen multiple versions of Hamlet over the years.

Well, Seattle Shakespeare Company and director John Langs have created a new production of Hamlet that ranks as one of the best Hamlets you're likely to see in years. Who can describe why a production is better or worse than another, if both are competent or good? The intangibles coalesce. Perhaps the stars align. Maybe the gods decree.

First, this production has Darragh Kennan as Hamlet. He's probably the perfect age with a perfect amount of stage mastery to tackle this complex role. He is the most 'American' of Hamlets. He does not declaim. Nobody declaims anything in this production. He ponders, he wonders, he internalizes, he seeks, he analyzes, he decides.

As he speaks some of the most famous speeches in history, like the 'To be or not to be' speech, Kennan explores what that really means as he toys with a knife, looking like he's about ready to dispatch himself there on the stage.

Langs has worked with every actor to get to the interior meaning of all that poetry. While some productions of Hamlet may have segments of words that rush by you heedlessly, this production makes sure that you hear virtually every word. It's slower, more methodical. The first act is two hours with no intermission, the second an hour and a half. Langs does not seem like he's taken shortcuts to comfort an impatient audience. But the pace here does not stultify; it enlightens.

Mary Ewald plays Queen Gertrude, who is stately and girlishly in love, as well as motherly and wonderful. She is allowed to become disenchanted with her new husband as the end draws near, which is a refreshing interpretation.

Richard Ziman as the odious uncle-usurper is marvelously slimy and generally heedless of his own criminality, and is excellent for the first two thirds of the play. He isn't quite believable at a point where he has to look like he's repenting his actions, but that's a small part of the whole.

Charles Leggett plays many key roles - chiefly the Ghost - with great sadness and power, and the dark levity of the gravedigger is welcome. David Pichette is a nattering Polonius, giving some humor to the often humorless role of a busybody courtier. Mike Dooly plays Hamlet's friend Horatio with a strong loyalty and palpable love for Hamlet. The rest of the ensemble has many strengths.

The set is beautifully stark, painted with a sort of seascape, sky wash fluidness by Jennifer Zeyl. The sound by Robertson Witmer is powerful and startling at times. The lighting by Geoff Korf is mostly effectively conceived - sometimes blindingly bright, almost 'commercial' (the production is almost a modern one), or literally dark (sometimes no light at all, which is effective in the beginning). However, the use of focused spotlights is way overdone.

Another tiny misstep is having Laertes pull a gun, which is offputtingly modern. A switchblade or dagger might have been better and a little more ambiguous in period.

The overall impression is totally masterful. This is a great production and those who get a chance to see it will have a Hamlet to remember and cherish in their memories. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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