From left to right, portraits of eight life-size monarchs, depicted from head to toe, tower over Hamlet. Eight vertical paintings. Eight imposing figures. Eight generations of history.
The rest of the severely swanky, modern interior of Elsinore is monopolized by glossy white walls with shiny gold trim – think ultra-expensive, minimalist New York penthouse meets the gaudy artist Patrick Nagel meets Versailles – but the paintings are what dominate.
No matter the time period of this powerful and piercing “Hamlet,” the gravity of those kings makes it seem timeless.
I admire and laud Chris Mangels’ adaptation and direction of the Fourth Wall Theatre adaptation of the classic play. This “Hamlet,” set in the present day, glides along so smoothly and with such sophisticated ease that when it stings – as Shakespeare must, especially for those of us who have seen it many times – it genuinely hurts.
I can’t remember when I’ve felt a shiver down my spine quite so emphatic when we first meet the ghost of Hamlet’s father, thanks to Mangel’s staging and Sean McMichael’s thrilling lighting design. (“Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porpentine,” the ghost intones, and I nodded yes.) Or thrilled quite so much when Hamlet, pretending to be mad, toys with the nattering Polonius by pointing to him and declaring him a fishmonger.
As for Polonius’ sad fate, I’ve never seen such a dramatic (and clever) rendition of the moment.
Mangels assembled without audition what you might call an all-star team for this “Hamlet,” and the deep-bench level of quality is (almost) uniform. Adam Rodriguez, a former student of Mangel’s at College of the Sequoias and now an acting student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, gives us a young, disaffected, headphone-wearing Hamlet who veers from sullen to bouncy, bopping about the stage in his bare feet in a whiplash of a performance that ranges between vacant and fiery.
Rodriguez gives us a young, disaffected, headphone-wearing Hamlet who veers from sullen to bouncy, bopping about the stage in his bare feet in a whiplash of a performance that ranges between vacant and fiery.
Bawdy and self-absorbed, Rodriguez’s Hamlet often shows us glimpses of a celebrity sheen, as if he’s used to playing a version of himself for public consumption. (This is one of the themes Mangels hoped to highlight in his adaptation: that of an intensely private family trying to get through a crisis in a tabloid world.) Yet rather than coming across as a snotty airhead, Mangels’ deft adaptation emphasizes private relationships, such as Hamlet’s affection for his friend Horatio (a stellar Colin Helpio in a performance that seems tall and reedy, just like his build) and for Rosencrantz (Schyler Mayo) and Guildenstern (Christopher Dorado).
By the time we get to Hamlet’s famed “to be” moment, we’ve seen the full range of this troubled character, understood his ache even while gawking a bit at his privileged life. This Hamlet comes across as greener than many portrayals I’ve seen, and it’s refreshing. Youthful angst plays well, particularly in this adaptation, compared to square-jawed resilience.
David Lemon gives Polonius a breathy, croaky voiced, slightly histrionic charm, and Diane Fidalgo, as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, imbues her performance with an icy shell that once broken reveals the consternation within.
Shawn Paregien has some nice moments as a snide and malevolent Claudius, though he faltered in intensity a little at the Sunday matinee performance I attended as the play progressed. (I kept wanting more from him – more bravado, cunning, and, in the end, deviance and fear.) Brittney Burris’ turn as Ophelia, while sometimes engaging, never got to the depth it needed. David Payne is a solid enough Laertes, though he, too, didn’t offer much for the audience to grab onto, especially in such a meaty production.
And while Mangels’ fight choreography is first-rate, I was a little disappointed in the shape and impact of the final scene – perhaps expecting something more visceral and gut-wrenching after such a build-up.
Besides Rodriguez’s brazen yet layered performance, time and again it’s the direction and design of this production that helps give it such a punch. James McDonnell’s costumes are pivotal. His mostly gray and black palette is divided between what you might call timeless business elegance and boutique streetwear: slick suits and tailored dresses for the royals, hoodies and knit caps for the younger set. Even the gravediggers (Sean McMichael and Thomas Nance, in assertive bit roles) are in their work clothes a pivotal element in this brisk, coordinated world.
And then there’s the remarkable set, designed by Mangels. In the midst of the rest of this scrupulously performed production, I found myself glancing up at those portraits (credited to Dorado) of Hamlet’s ancestors. They stared back, unblinking, perhaps contemplating that human nature doesn’t really change.
Neither the characters nor audience can escape the weight of those kings. If this “Hamlet” weren’t a must-see already, they seal the deal.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, and Saturday, Aug. 15; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16
- Main Street Theatre, 307 E. Main St., Visalia