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“Hamlet,” staged by the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, runs in repertory at the Michael Baughman Theater on the campus of Jackson Community College, Jackson, through Aug. 5. Tickets: $23-$26. For information: 517-796-8600 or http://www.michshakefest.org
To drive or not to drive, that is the question many people will be asking themselves over the next few weeks, as high gas prices might force Metro Detroit theatergoers to reconsider their plans to attend this summer’s Michigan Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Jackson Community College.
Methinks such a decision wouldst be a shame, quite frankly, since the festival offers Shakespeare lovers the chance to see some of The Bard’s best works performed by a talented mix of established veterans and up-and-coming youngsters. And this year, that includes “Hamlet,” arguably Shakespeare’s greatest.
It’s also his lengthiest – which might partially explain why some theaters avoid it like the plague.
But there’s no denying the beauty of the words, as much of the dialogue the public remembers from Shakespeare comes from this show.
Yet there’s nothing quite like experiencing “Hamlet” live on stage. When it’s done well, it can be an amazing theatrical experience; when it’s not, it’s an excruciating waste of three hours.
Luckily for those who decide ’tis nobler to see “Hamlet” than to avoid it, the long drive to Jackson will be worth the time and expense. That’s because the opening production of the festival’s 2006 summer season – while not perfect – is far more the former than it is the latter.
And if nothing else, you’ll drive away with a profound respect for actor R. Chris Reeder who had more lines and lengthy soliloquies to learn playing Hamlet than any one thespian ever should. (More impressively, he didn’t seem to bobble a single one on opening night, despite the fact that he was jumping around the stage pretending to be a raving lunatic while delivering them!)
Yes, Prince Hamlet is a crazy person in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Or at least that’s what his parents, the King and Queen of Denmark, and most of their friends and subjects believe. Actually, he’s just royally peeved that not only did his Uncle Claudius swoop in and “steal” the crown by marrying his mother almost moments after the death of King Hamlet, but a visit from the grave reveals the truth behind daddy’s death. So Hamlet plots his revenge – which, of course, ends tragically for just about every major character in the play.
What’s not tragic is director John Neville-Andrews concept for the classic play. Rather than place his characters somewhere in the Middle Ages, Neville-Andrews moves them forward to the world of the 1920s and 1930s, which draws parallels between ancient politicians and prohibition-era crime lords. As such, the men look handsome in their form-fitted, pin-striped suits, and the women are hot in their revealing dresses. Somewhat incongruous, however, is the humungous and underutilized set that seems to come from a different era altogether.
Besides Reeder, the director’s cast includes the much welcomed return to the local stage of deep-voiced Cameron Knight as Laertes, Carly Germany as Ophelia, Ed. Simone as Claudius and James Bowen as local busybody Polonius. Nathaniel Nose does a fine job as Hamlet’s major domo, Horatio.
Even with its high caliber of talent, the opening night performance was a study in contrasts. Prior to intermission, most of the actors seemed stuck on “playing Shakespeare” rather than simply living and breathing it. As such, the believability of their characters and situations was mostly lost. (The occasional poor diction didn’t help.) But they came out roaring after the break and offered one heck of a riveting and powerful conclusion.