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Review: Denver Center Theatre offers a captivating Hamlet set in pre-World War I

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Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most often performed play, opened January 24 at The Stage Theatre.

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To be or not to be. . .is he or isn’t he? That is the question. Is Hamlet mad as everyone in Denmark thinks, or is his melancholy brought on by indecision, an Oedipus complex, revenge for his father’s death, love for Ophelia, all of the above or none of the above?

For centuries, scholars have analyzed Hamlet, the man and the play, and actors have longed to bring their interpretation to the role of the disturbed Dane.

Making his debut at the DCTC, young Aubrey Deeker channels a contemplative Hamlet—passionate, painfully indecisive and impulsive. At one point he unexpectedly folds his legs and melts into the Lotus pose when it all seems too much. He elicits compassion as he carries the awful burden of knowing that his uncle murdered his father (Something is rotten in the state of Denmark), took the throne and married his mother in just two months time (Frailty, they name is woman!).

“This is a play I've been picking up once or twice a year since I was a teenager, but I had never attempted to articulate why I was so drawn to it,” said Deeker who has starred in at least a dozen Shakespeare plays. “All I knew was that the poetry made me weep, and that as an actor you just don't get language better than this. Every time I feel like I'm close to unpacking and understanding a moment or a speech or a scene, it explodes into something twenty times bigger than what I thought it was. Shakespeare is unparalleled for this kind of thing, and it is simply the best material out there.”

Indeed, Hamlet is fraught with tantalizing themes: sex, drunkenness, suicide, mortality, corruption, vengeance, loyalty, fate, fathers and children, and man and the universe. More famous quotes comes from this play than any other.

The acting is mesmerizing, as it usually is from the Denver Center Theatre Company. Who better to play the imposing ghost of the King than DCTC’s distinguished John Hutton? Sam Gregory is excellent as the manipulative Polonius; Kathleen McCall portrays a fetching but shallow Gertrude; Amelia Pedlow shows a range of emotions as Ophelia; and Jacob H. Knoll is a hot-headed Laertes who brings about the death of the Dane while avenging his own father’s death.

Robert N. Schmidt’s pre-World War I set and Elizabeth Novak’s costumes work well for this story that is timeless in its angst. The clanging and banging of swords in the fight scene between Laertes and Hamlet under Geoffrey Kent’s direction is both gripping and entertaining.

Hamlet is directed by Kent Thompson. Other cast members include Peter Simon Hilton, Shawn Fagan, Philip Pleasants, Michael Keyloun, Rodney Lizcano, Anthony Bianco, Douglas Harmsen, Jeffrey Roark, Benjamin Bonenfant, Stephanie Cozart and James O'Hagan-Murphy.

Hamlet plays The State Theatre through February 23. Performance dates are Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.; February 7 & 8 at 8 p.m. only; and February 9 at 6:30 p.m. only.

For tickets, call 3303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.

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