By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Elsinore — Hamlet’s castle and home — has never looked as barren as it does at The Old Globe this summer, where the Globe’s artistic director Barry Edelstein is directing “Hamlet” through Sept. 10 on the outdoor Davies Festival Stage.
Maybe there’s a certain logic to that, given that the plot is about murder and revenge (for starters). At any rate, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and maybe it took a normal “Hamlet” set with it. What’s left is a rolling bed that nearly all the major characters end up on at one time or another and three cheesy-looking (but very high) gold-toned stairways on rollers that can be pushed together so as to make a walkway in the heights — or separated for other uses.
It’s here that Barnardo (Lorenzo Landini) and Marcellus (Amara James Aja) take the nightly watch, and where Hamlet’s friend Horatio says he has seen the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father pacing more than once.
(That gold-toned theme seems to be a pattern: also on the stage is a massive gold-toned statue of Hamlet’s father in fencing garb. It’s not clear what purpose this serves.)
Hamlet’s psyche is delicate enough to begin with, since he suspects his uncle Claudius (Cornell Womack) of foul play in his father King Hamlet’s death. What galls young Hamlet even more is that his mother Gertrude (Opal Alladin) married Claudius shortly after King Hamlet was buried.
That’s enough to drive anyone a little crazy. But a reported sighting of his father’s ghost stalking the castle parapet at midnight? That might be enough to push him over the edge.
Hamlet (Grantham Coleman) takes the watch the next night, and sure enough, his father’s ghost (Michael Genet) not only appears, but talks, accusing Claudius of “murder most foul” and asking Hamlet to avenge his murder.
Hamlet verifies Claudius’ guilt with the help of a troupe of wandering actors who play out a standard murder plot augmented by a few lines written by Hamlet and tailored to elicit a response that will reveal Claudius’ guilt.
With that, Hamlet puts “an antic disposition on” and plots his uncle’s demise.
Is he really nuts or just acting? Hamlet’s hapless girlfriend Ophelia (Talley Beth Gale), not in on the plot, is mystified by Hamlet’s sudden brushoff and his yelled order to “Get thee to a nunnery.” Fact or fake, it’s enough to drive her around the bend, and her late mad scenes are wondrously fine.
The find for this production is Grantham Coleman’s Hamlet. Brooding, with an increasingly dark spirit, he hurdles toward his bloody end with deep emotion and impeccable diction. At times, he seems possessed; other times just crazy; still others, determined; like the committed plotter he is.
Opal Alladin’s Queen Gertrude is excellent as the lone aristocrat who isn’t crazy or scheming, but she too will be a victim in the end.
Old Globe summer staple Patrick Kerr is wonderful as Ophelia’s father Polonius, the old man with a bromide (or 12) for every occasion — in a notebook, to make sure he can find just the right one.
Cornell Womack’s Claudius is a bit cruder than I’ve seen him played, which makes him even more credible in the overall plot.
Genet gets a workout. He not only plays the ghost (with great authority), but also the jaunty gravedigger and the player king.
Ian Lassiter is a fine Horatio, and many talented students from the USD/Old Globe Graduate Theatre Program make strong contributions as well.
This production is stylistically eclectic. Originally set in medieval times, here Tim Mackabee’s set is almost absent, the costumes (by Cait O’Connor) sumptuous, Curtis Moore’s music (played by musicians Chaz Cabrera and Gabriel Wolf) distinctly modern, almost jazzy at times, the actions timeless.
It’s also textually eclectic: Edelstein took parts of all three extant versions of the text and melded them into an intriguing and different whole.
“Hamlet” is a difficult play in many ways, but always worth seeing. This production needs to be seen most of all for Grantham Coleman’s fine portrayal of the title character.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.