By Pat Launer
Re-thinking Shakespeare. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. But if you’re going to re-set the Bard’s work in another timeframe, there had better be a reason. That reason is not exactly clear in Intrepid Theatre Company’s new production of “Hamlet.”
The time between the World Wars affords some lovely costume potential (excellent work by Beth Merriman and Erin Peterson, especially for Gertrude, whose every gown is a stunner), and maybe it’s an excuse to feature a helicopter sound (they were first used in WWII), though that doesn’t really seem to have much bearing on the action. The uniforms on the King and courtiers are informed by that era, but it also doesn’t seem to add much. If the intent is to modernize Shakespeare, then why not set it in modern times?
Under the direction of Chrisy Yael, the production has much to commend it: a highly attractive set (Sean Fannin ), with mammoth columns towering above the action. An excellent idea to have King Hamlet’s ghost parade up above, on the lighting grid/catwalk, making his presence seem ghostly, indeed. The lighting design (Curtis Mueller) also highlights the otherworldly elements.
And while the effort as a whole is spotty in terms of performance, there are some prominent standouts, most notably, Sean Cox’s Hamlet – in his antic disposition. This is no melancholy Dane, or a seriously indecisive one. But antic he is, in spades. Frenetic, you might say. It’s clear that Cox has invested his heart, guts and soul in this performance. Jennifer Eve Thorn’s mad scene, as Ophelia , is magnificent and heartbreaking. Brian Mackey is potent as Laertes (and his duel with Hamlet is quite credible); Debra Wanger’s Gertrude has strong moments, though her underlying relationship with her son remains untapped or unspecified. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are cyphers. Claudius seems neither evil nor conniving.
In an attempt to make the play infinitely accessible, (though it still runs nearly three hours),m Intrepid sometimes panders (lots of comic business, and not particularly where Shakespeare intended, though the mostly high school audience the night I was there was loving it); and speed-speaking. Everyone seems to be trying to make the poetry prosaic, or at least conversational. Which often means that lines fly by or are swallowed up, and the meaning can be buried or lost. This is especially problematic in the cavernous, high-ceilinged, state-of-the-art theater at San Dieguito Academy, when actors often turn upstage to complete their stage business.
The complex layering of the play is only occasionally in evidence. It’s likely that Cox will get better and better as the run proceeds. He’s got the chops, the energy and he’s close to mastering a bone-deep understanding of the title character.
“Hamlet” runs through February 17 in the Performing Arts Center on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encintas .
Tickets are available at 1-888-71-TICKETS or www.intrepidshakespeare.com
©2013 PAT LAUNER