Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hamlet 2016

I title this post 'Hamlet 2016' because the current production at the Vortex Theatre is very contemporary.  The ubiquitous smartphones will strike the viewer immediately and they are used throughout to good effect.

There is no question that I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and of Greek tragedy.  If I am aware of any production near me, you will be challenged to keep me away from it.  Sometimes memory fades over the years but this is at least the second, and possibly third, live production of Hamlet I have attended.  In the last couple of years I have also watched at least five versions of Hamlet on VHS, DVD, or the big screen (in the recent production with Benedict Cumberbatch).   These range from the uncut version with Kenneth Branagh to the abomination with Ethan Hawke (and Bill Murray doing a Polonius that made me want to puke).  One is the version with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, and his performance inspired Branagh to become an actor.  Branagh then cast Jacobi as Claudius when Branagh played Hamlet.

Additionally, I obtained a somewhat abridged audio recording on LP records when I was in high school.  I listened over and over again, utterly captivated by the drama and poetry of Shakespeare.  To this I owe the annoying fact that I can mouth huge portions of the dialogue when watching it.

It is thus with trepidation that I go to any performance.  This is one of the plays that has become part of me.  Its music has flowed through my soul for half a century.  Will I be exhilarated or disheartened at the next production?

I can say, with all honesty, that I truly enjoyed the performance at the Vortex last Sunday.  I am not going so far as to say exhilarated, but I was definitely deeply satisfied and I recommend the production to anyone in the Albuquerque area.

Caroline Graham as Ophelia, Nicholas Ballas as Claudius, 
Grey Blanco as Hamlet, and Aleah Montano as Gertrude.  
Photo courtesy of the Vortex Theatre website.

One aspect of the performance I especially enjoyed was a sense that this was a modern Ophelia.  Yes, given her position in courtly society she is manipulated and managed, as Ophelia always has been, but Caroline Graham gives her an individual fire.  Her mad scene is stunning and terrifying; there is nothing pretty about it, yet it also endues her with a dignity.  She cannot be touched anymore than she can be used.

Grey Blanco as Hamlet carries the burden of a part all actors aspire to and he does so well.  Mercifully, this performance takes place in an enclosed area with the audience on all four sides, so Blanco did not have to race around everywhere as Cumberbatch did in an immense set, leaving  the audience exhausted.  But he does have the energy and emotions of youth and the struggle to take action in a world of conflicting desires and responsibilities.  I could believe the passion between him and Ophelia and the struggle to distance himself from her, brutally but not without ambiguity.

Kudos must be given to Miguel Martinez the fight choreographer who worked for ten weeks with Blanco and Quinn Scicluna (Laertes).  The duel that concludes the action cannot be faked and it not only went smoothly but convincingly, with satisfying moves and fierce emotion.  Anyone who has read the play or studied it knows how it all ends.  I will not spoil the final touch that holds a mirror to our warped modern souls.

The Claudius of Nicholas Ballas is, as he should be, a polished and entitled villain.  Peter Shea Kierst was, as I expected, a perfect Polonius.  Gertrude was not given as strong a presence in this production as in some I have seen but Aleah Montano was queenly throughout and duly wretched in the closet scene.  I could not discern just how complicit she was in her husband's assassination, a question this play always raises.

Rosencrantz (Bridget S. Dunne) and Guildenstern (Jonathan Tyrell) were believable university friends and casting Rosencrantz as a woman gave some added poignancy to the intricacies of friendship among these two and Hamlet.  The utter devotion of Horatio (Tommy Joy) can be seen throughout the play but in Horatio's last farewell the depth and passion came through (and I got misty).

David Richard Jones directed and chaired a talkover after the Sunday matinee.  I appreciated the chance to hear more from him and several of the actors and to express appreciation to them all.

This is not the uncut version that goes on forever.  Fortinbras hardly matters, but the guts of the drama are all here.

I commend the performance to all who might enjoy some of the Bard's most beautiful writing and richest drama.

--the BB