By Joel Benjamin
The Frog & Peach Theatre Company is presenting a straightforward production of the much-staged—over-staged?—Shakespearean tragedy with no frills, no new age re-interpretations, no oddball re-locations and, most important, no wholesale re-configurations of Shakespeare’s brilliant language (except for a few pronoun changes to accommodate a female Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). As directed by the Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Lynnea Benson, the language shines and the story zips along efficiently and clearly. This would be a fine introduction to this play for anyone who’s never seen it before: it’s immediate, ardent and direct.
The West End Theatre is an intimate space so the audience is just a few feet away from the actors. Avoiding special effects, Ms. Benson lets Shakespeare do his thing. She sets the play in some undetermined time defined by fairly modern dress accented with fur and leather—costumes by Lindsey Vanevier—and a set accented by what looks like Viking medallions. The closest thing to a gimmick is the flashlight that a very convincing Eric Doss holds within his dark cape to eerily illuminate his face.
The cast was game and committed. Mr. Doss, mentioned above, was properly grim as the Ghost and delightfully profane as the Gravedigger. Ryan Dreyer had very few lines as Osric, but made an impression with his slightly fey demeanor and complete concentration. In the dual roles of Bernardo and Fortinbras, Philip Oros had a slight awkwardness that was refreshing. Roger Rathburn played Marcellus and then the Player, the former with the proper anxiety and the latter with a theatrical exaggeration. Hamish Carmichael, delicate in build, nevertheless was effective as the English Ambassador at the end of the play.
Amy Frances Quint and Ilaria Amadasi animated the female Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with a sassy sexuality. Bradley Holbrook played Claudius with the brashness of a game show host whose surface glitz finally cracks. As his wife Gertrude, Hamlet’s mom, Vivien Landau kept her stiff upper lip as long as she could, becoming more physically involved in her role, particularly in her death throes.
Stephen Siano had a quiet seething quality as Laertes who loses both his father and sister. Alfred Gingold, as Polonius, had the richest voice of all the actors and played this very concerned father as good-natured rather than as the usual doddering fool. Megan McGarvey gave Ophelia a wide-eyed innocence. Her offstage suicide was believable and touching because of how she exited the stage after her “mad scene.”
Whether it was by choice or chance, Brando Boniver’s Hamlet physically towered over the rest of the cast. He eschewed grandeur for reality and was convincing as a troubled young man.
The sword fights staged by Marcus Watson helped notch up the energy level.
Though modest and rough around the edges this Hamlet is worth a look-see.
Hamlet – October 17th – November 10th, 2013
Frog & Peach Theatre Company
West End Theatre
263 West 86th St. (between Broadway & West End Ave.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-868-4444 or www.SmartTix.com