Encinitas, CA------When someone works as hard as actor Sean Cox does in his emotional portrayal of the young Prince Hamlet now in a excellent effort in his theatre company’s production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, it should run longer that a few weeks. On the other hand, when someone works that hard and goes on such a deep emotional roller coaster journey perhaps it’s a good idea that run is limited. Hamlet is no easy guy to figure out or for that mater to be!
Let’s just look at his family situation. His mother Queen Gertrude (Debra Wanger: ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’) married Claudius her brother in law (Tom Stephenson) shortly after the death of her late husband King Hamlet (seen in ghost like apparition's by Jim Chovick). Hamlet accuses her of using the same cookies and punch for her wedding that were left over from the funeral, it happened that fast.
Claudius, who killed the King his brother, now sits on the throne as the new King of Denmark and Hamlet’s stepfather. (“Something is rotten in Denmark”) Hamlet is beside himself, as his mother reveals no guilt about marrying so soon after the loss of her husband, Hamlet’s father. Making things even worse, the young prince is haunted by the ghostly wanderings of his father who wants revenge for his murder. (“Remember by seeking revenge”)
“To be or not to be”… Act 3 scene 1; Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy is the beginning of Hamlet’s madness as we witness his bizarre actions around the ones he loves.
Then there is the trickle down effect of Hamlet’s obsession with the revenge killing of his mother and uncle/stepfather; he’s just plain mean and ruthless to the gal whose head over heels in love with him, the innocent Ophelia (a beautiful Jennifer Eve Thorn). In his ‘ get thee to a nunnery’ rant, Cox’s Hamlet all but pulls his Ophelia (Thorn) by the chin across the room. It’s rather brutal looking.
Ophelia can’t, won’t and doesn’t understand why Hamlet is so atrocious to her. One thing leads to another including a play within the play by a troupe of players as a ploy to try to recreate his father’s death and therefore reveal Claudius’ reaction. Hamlet gets the answer he is looking for when Claudius gets a big case of claustrophobia and has to leave the room where the play is taking place.
Now Hamlet thinks he has reason to kill Claudius. He goes to his mother’s bedchambers to confront Claudius but makes a huge mistake and accidentally kills Ophelia’s father, the gentle Polonius (Danny Campbell) who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Between Hamlet’s, we think feigned madness and her father’s death, Ophelia goes mad herself and commits suicide by drowning. Laertes, her brother (Brian Mackey) plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet.
After a series of ‘I spy’ moments involving Hamlet’s supposedly good pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Steven Grawrock and Wendy Waddell) to see what Hamlet is up to, Hamlet finds out they too, turn against him. Leaving no stones unturned, Hamlet manages to put a hit out on them.
Finally in a hold your breath fencing duel (Jason D. Rennie) between Hamlet and Laertes the world of kings, prince’s, lovers and those loved come crashing down in a tragedy of mass proportions. There is so much happening in the three hours of Intrepid's production, that one can be thankful it all worked like clockwork because this is Shakespeare's longest play sometimes running over five hours.
Bottom line; in the end most everyone is dead. After Claudius left his poison pills behind for everyone to either drink or feel, “It’s all Claudius’s fault! Claudius did it!” Hamlet stabs him with the tip of the poisoned sword and then gives his final speech: “O, I die”
Intrepid Shakespeare Company is now in its third season. One might call it one of the new kids on the block. In the past this company has proven itself with not only the works of Shakespeare but a wonderful rendering of Clifford Odets’ “An Enemy of the People” last year and this year the company will be producing David Mamet’s “Oleanna”, Sondheim/Lapine “Into The Woods” as well as two other’s of the Bard’s works.
Both Cox and his wife and partner Christy Yael, who did a wonderful job of directing this “Hamlet” are the founders of Intrepid Shakespeare Company. The company does outreach and educational tours spending 50% of its time and resources toward education. In 2010-2011 they succeeded in bringing live Shakespeare performances to over 15,000 students.
While Cox is the major attraction in this current production and is about as genuine as any Hamlet can be, others stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Jennifer Eve Thorn comes to mind as the jilted girlfriend who also goes mad but hers is less subtle that Hamlet’s. Beautiful in her own right she shows up covered in mud (after he tells her to get to the nunnery) looking strangely out into space and absent of anything around her, she hangs on to her brother Laertes who didn’t seem to have a clue at the time.
Deborah Wanger shows a more maternal interest than others I’ve seen. She’s not quite the shrike that is portrayed on other productions, but weak overall. In some ways she acts almost clueless. Danny Campbell also shows the compassionate father while Brian Mackey is all bustle until he has to face off with Hamlet. Tom Stephenson’s Claudius could be a little more engaging.
Tom Hall’s Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend, does well by remaining loyal to Hamlet as he is the lone survivor of the bloodletting, but Waddell and Grawrock seem an odd pair as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Yael brings the action more or less to current day culture. Dressed in more contemporary clothes (Beth Merriman and Erin Petersen) Hamlet shows up wearing a suit and sunglasses. All the men are in suits or slacks and shirts. The dignitaries have a few medals pinned to their chest. The women are a little more elegantly dressed. Jim Chovick (more than convincing as the ghost) shows up in a mariner’s outfit as he roams outside the palace grounds. He plays several other characters as well.
Sean Fanning’s palatial looking set sets the stage with seating is on three sides, I’m guessing to make it easier to see. Some of the sight lines are not the best, though. The setup however works well straight on, in this case looking at three doors, small steps into and out of the palace making entrances and exits easily accessible.
Some of the action even takes place in the walkway above the audience and Matt Lescoult-Wood’s sound design sounds like surround sound in some cases. It is most effective as is Curtis Mueller’s lighting design. Overall Itrepid’s “Hamlet” has the WOW factor you won’t want to miss.
Bring the kids. They will be entranced and they will be able to understand the more contemporary look and by design by the feel of Yael’s interpretation.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 17th
Organization: Intrepid Shakespeare Company
Production Type: Tragedy
Where: Clayton E. Liggett Performing Arts Center, San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fr Drive, Encinitas
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$35.00