There is no play and no role in the history of theatre that is more revered, more feared and more debated than Hamlet. Not only have Hamlet's thoughts become a matter of everyday English usage, but his behavior remains as enigmatic as ever. It is these and other subtleties of the play that make it the ultimate challenge for a theatre company and an actor.
The recently reorganized Denver Civic Theatre appears up to the challenge. Their current production of this Shakespearean classic, now running on their main stage, is filled with talented players and is directed by Gary Logan, a renowned voice and dialect coach, experienced actor, and burgeoning director.
In his notes for the play, Logan asks, "Does Hamlet do the right thing?" I must admit, I was somewhat confused by this query, since the precepts of classical tragedy include the notions that downfall of the principal characters results from character flaws and inexorable fate. Given Hamlet's background, named after his father and groomed to be King, could he really have done anything else, especially after experiencing his father's ghost? So the questions in Hamlet are rather, "Why does Hamlet do what he does?" "Is he crazy, or just crazy like a fox?"
Gene Gillette's Hamlet is intensely introspective, gregarious, fiery, tender, and quite erudite and clever, that is, everything that the playwright has intended for his sweet prince. Gillette moves between these nuances naturally, drawing us in as we await the unpredictable youth's next revelation. It is only when confronted by those two crucial back-to-back scenes, Hamlet's famous crossroads—"To be or not to be…"—and his rejection of Ophelia that follows—"Get thee to a nunnery…"—that we are left wanting. For throughout his performance, Gillette gives us a Hamlet that, despite his extreme distress over his father's murder, is focused and calculating, and yet when he turns on a dime and goes from tenderness to bitterness with Ophelia, we are left clueless, having been given neither the foreshadowing of madness, hints of sparing his beloved from what he must do, nor, most obviously, any recognition that he knows he is being watched by Claudius and Polonius. To be sure, this is a directorial omission, and one that seems traceable to asking the wrong question.
Additionally, while the ancient ghost of Hamlet's father is imposing, its synthesized voice and aloofness from his son (contrary to the text) skirted an emotional opportunity, opting instead for the obvious "scary" effect.
Otherwise, we are given a robust treatment of this great tale. Greg Humphreys' Claudius is cunning and devious. As Ophelia, Elgin Kelly paints three well shaded characterizations of the idealistic and besmitten woman-child, the once-jilted wiser young-woman, and finally, the betrayed and orphaned angelic-voiced daft and suicidal victim.
Steve Wilson's Polonius is a novel synthesis of a manipulating and dithering courtier. Tony LoVerde's is deceptively explosive as Laertes, the loving and dutiful son and revengeful brother. Katherine Gray's Gertrude is motherly and guileless even unto her death.
Kudos to Gabriella Cavallero, the movement coach, for the most elegant play within a play I've ever observed, thankfully giving Elizabethan actors their due.
Credit also goes to Logan for going with Matt Bassano's unorthodox sound design, which underscored key scenes yet did not get in the way of the language-a novel addition that worked.
Despite a few flaws, the Denver Civic Theatre's production of Hamlet is a well acted and compelling production of the playwright's most robust self-portrait. It runs through April 22nd. 303-595-3800.