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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
HAMLET
at Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey

AT SWORDS POINT
By ROBERT L. DANIELS

  (From left) Daniel Stewart, Michael Stewart Allen, Gareth Saxe/Ph: Gerry Goodstein

First up in this season of Hamlet (being performed on both sides of the Hudson) is a vividly accessible production by the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey. Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte has staged the tragedy with a sense of tableaux, intimacy and urgency at sword point.

On the Madison stage of the Drew University campus, the Dane is acted by Gareth Saxelast seen on Broadway in The Homecoming. Lean, pale and handsome, Saxe speaks the familiar lines with affecting simplicity and directness. The great soliloquy—“to be or not to be”—is a bit rushed but pointedly direct and well served. “Oh that this too solid flesh,” beautifully spoken though the voice of Richard Burton , echoes in the brain after one hears that speech. The actor avoids melancholy, leaning more on potent purpose and the poetry of the text.

The real triumph here is a performance by Robert Cuccioli, Broadway’s memorable Jekyll and Hyde. Here he doubles as the remorseful King Claudius and the Ghost of Hamlet's Father. Cuccioli has a voice that booms with thunder and fire. His ghost scene summons an eerie presence. His prayer of forgiveness when his “words fly up, and thoughts remain below” is a vividly fervent moment, and his death scene is harrowing.

Jacqueline Antaramian provides a Gertrude of grace and dignity. Ames Adamson, a busy actor on Jersey stages, doubles as a robust Player King and the amusing gravedigger who unearths the skull of court jester Yorick. Lauren English is a demure Ophelia and gives a poignant and telling account of bereavement and ultimate insanity following the death of her bumbling father.

Often omitted in pared-down productions of Hamlet are the characters of sleuthing courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Monte has subtly given these pawns their rightful due, as they are played with tidy restraint by Gene Gillette and Michael Stewart Allen respectively.

Perhaps the only misfit here is court counselor Polonius. John Hickok gives a fussy and mannered performance that, while acted with poised dignity, misses the dotty humor of the role.

As always, Rick Sordelet has staged a sword fight as thrilling as Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn once encountered on a sandy Sabatini beach. Atmospheric choral interludes provided by the Voices of Harmonium Choral Society add immeasurably to mood and texture during scene changes.

Monte is also credited as set designer. A grated bridge hovers above a court of dark shadows and archways that conceal lurking eavesdroppers.

Often clocking in at nearly five hours—as did the Royal Shakespeare Company production that I viewed a decade ago in London with Mark Rylance—this tidy turn runs three gripping hours and can be seen through Oct 11 at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater.

The mantle now falls upon the shoulders of Jude Law as the Dane, set to open at the Broadhurst.

 


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