Shakespeare’s tragic Prince of indecision, HAMLET, is having a grand staging at Church of the Covenant at the hands of Actors’ Shakespeare Project! I’ve seen the play set everywhere, but this is an inspired venue. Doug Lockwood’s direction rises to the challenge and opportunity of the space; though pivoting in my seat to follow the action was a bit awkward, I loved that there was action all around me. The company has fun with the volume of this shadowy nave, the beautiful, fluid lighting guiding us through the dark, jeweled costumes glittering in the half light, the bard’s sublime verse echoing top to bottom, front to back.
The unhappy Prince of Denmark whose uncle killed his father the king and took his crown and his queen–must decide if, how, and when to take his revenge. It’s a messy business as we watch Hamlet wrestle with betrayal, his father’s ghost, duty, conscience, mortality, the meaning of it all and the lovesick Ophelia, collateral damage in a metaphysical war.
The production streamlines the text and the subtext, mistakenly eliminating the opening scene and its first words, that crucial question which signals the existential battle to come: “Who’s there?” Nevertheless, the production gathers momentum and held me fast as the bodies and questions pile up. The performances are almost beside the point though they are uniformly fine. Omar Robinson’s pumped up Hamlet is more antic than agonized; Ross MacDonald is perfect as Claudius, the smug usurper irritated by Hamlet’s moody rebellion. Marianna Bassham is elegant yet guileless as Queen Gertrude, the woman who gave birth to Hamlet, and later doubles as the gravedigger in a scene which foreshadows his death.
There are endless approaches to HAMLET, and this is a muscular one, which held me in the grip of its urgent relevant text and the energy of its players up close. As I sat in that church, I couldn’t help but muse on life’s mysteries, and the issues raised by the transfer of power now upon us during this election season. As the corrupt Claudius prays for forgiveness having murdered his brother, I suddenly thought of the countless power brokers who either acknowledge no “rank” offenses, or if they do, claim they are “taking responsibility” for them. Claudius asks the right question:
But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?
See HAMLET by Actors’ Shakespeare Project through November 6.