THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE SCORES AGAIN
by Arielle Lipshaw
published April 3, 2009
now playing Off Broadway at the Duke on 42nd
through April 12
Following its highly acclaimed production of Othello, Theatre for a New Audience
continues this season’s run of well-crafted, accessible interpretations of Shakespeare with Hamlet, directed by David Esbjornson and featuring Christian Camargo in the title role. Simply put,
everything about this production is good. Mr. Esbjornson has crafted a tight, pointed, compelling story, which is supported by every
element onstage. Though cuts and a few shifts have been made to the text, they are by no means arbitrary; each feels intelligently chosen
and in the interest of telling this particular story. The geopolitical elements of the text, including the encroach of Fortinbras, are
downplayed, although, happily, Hamlet’s oft-cut “How all occasions do inform against me” soliloquy has been retained.
Christian Camargo is cast somewhat against type, or at least against stereotype, of the weak and bookish student too frightened of
consequences to act at all. With his tall frame and deep, rich voice, Mr. Camargo uses his physicality to his advantage; he makes it clear
that, for Hamlet’s indecision to have any real meaning, the audience must believe him actually capable of murder. His struggle against the
confines of his family and his country is both physical and mental; he is at once too smart and too large for the restrictive Danish
This Denmark is a rigid, chilly environment, visible in the monotone silver and black of Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costumes and
Marcus Doshi’s grid-like lighting design, both of which take literally the line, “Denmark’s a prison.” The grid shudders and scrambles when
confronted with any disruptive element, whether it is the ominous ghost of Hamlet’s father or the seemingly innocuous traveling players.
These players are transgressive, wearing bright colors, turning rank and gender upside down, and daring to experience the emotions which
everyone else seems to find dangerous.
Over the course of the play, we see Hamlet evolve as each event affects and changes him. The famous soliloquies, far from being
stagnant set pieces, are markers which explore Hamlet’s character and delineate his course. Mr. Camargo gives a brilliant, invigorating
performance, allowing us to see Hamlet as a human being, rather than a collection of 400-year-old clichés.
The same can best said for the rest of the cast, who bring the humanity and family relationships in the text to the forefront.
Jennifer Ikeda is a refreshingly un-hysterical Ophelia, carrying herself with grace and dignity, to which her mad scene provides a poignant
contrast. One of the freshest scenes in the play is that in which Laertes (Graham Hamilton) takes his leave of Ophelia and Polonius (Alvin
Epstein) to return to France. Laertes’s exhortations to his sister and Polonius’s to his son might seem stodgy on the page or in lesser
productions, but here they are injected with life, making us believe that these people are truly members of a caring family. The doomed
Rosencrantz (Craig Pattison) and Guildenstern (Richard Topol) are here a pair of overgrown frat boys in sneakers, all too eager to betray
their friend to win commendations from a king. Though Tom Hammond’s Horatio is believably intelligent and loyal, he is simply not given
enough to do; too many of his lines and scenes have been cut, and so the play’s final moments lose some resonance because we have not seen
enough of his character throughout.
It is truly a sign of a good production when one can sit through three and a half hours and still be left wanting more. With this
season’s productions of Shakespeare, Theatre for a New Audience is definitely doing something right.
ariellelipshaw @ stageandcinema.com