Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hamlet at Seattle Shakes: Wow. Just. Wow.

Hamlet must be one of the most produced plays in theater. I bet I've seen a couple of dozen productions on stage and screen, from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Kenneth Branagh to Shawn Law in 2008 with GreenStage to a stirring performance by Dan Donohue at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year. But even though (spoiler alert!) everyone dies, I can't remember crying at the end of Hamlet until Mike Dooly's Horatio bade "Goodnight, sweet prince" in a cracking voice during the final scene of Seattle Shakespeare Company's production last Friday.

"Goodnight, sweet prince." Mike Dooly
(right) as Horatio bids adieu to Darragh
Kennan's Hamlet in the Seattle Shakespeare
Company production. Photo: John Ulman.
Director John Langs has molded a triumphant Hamlet out of an amazing cast that starts with Darragh Kennan in the title role. Many a director has fallen to the temptation to make the Melancholy Dane a prince paralyzed by grief and indecision. Kennan, however, plays a sharp Hamlet who mourns his father, yes, but is smart and funny and altogether with it throughout. Local treasures Charles Leggett (ghost, gravedigger) and David Pichette (Polonius) are fabulous. Richard Ziman is cold and calculating as King Claudius. Law is Laertes this time and delights, especially in the closing-scene swordplay. Brenda Joyner is sassy but obedient Ophelia, at least until her father dies and she goes off the deep end herself. Dooly, of course, is a favorite on these pages. After the show he told us that during previews they were having trouble making the audience care about the outcome. This is no longer a problem! Kudos, really, to Langs and the whole cast. The performances were solid throughout and the results spectacular.

The set was fairly minimal. A couple of castle walls and two low tables that could be anything from a bed to a grave were about all that was needed. Langs came up with an interesting way to keep the ghostly King Hamlet present throughout the play.

It's always interesting to see the same play performed by different companies during the same year. We had just seen a marvelous production of Hamlet in September at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Donohue was great and Hamlet may rank as OSF's best this year, and while we haven't written most of our Ashland reviews yet (we've been busy!) I would venture to say that the Seattle Shakes version was a touch better! That may be fodder for a whole other post once (if!) we get the OSF Hamlet review written. In the meantime, while OSF has wrapped for the season, you have almost another month to see Hamlet at Seattle Shakespeare Company, where it plays through Dec. 5. I recommend it highly.

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