Monday, August 18, 2008

The Play is the Thing

Directors come at Hamlet the way singers approach the National Anthem before a sporting event. Many singers see the National Anthem as an opportunity to let out their inner diva and many directors see Hamlet as a vehicle for showcasing their own brilliance. Far too many of them make the mistake of assuming that because the play is so well known by so many, that a fresh, quirky interpretation is the only way to keep it interesting.
Last night we went with a bunch of people to see The Elm Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet in Edgerton Park. It was well done. Director James Andreassi added a modern grace note or two, but all in all kept it pretty true to the tone of the original. I appreciated his light touch. After all, it is the play that is brilliant and the play does not need much tinkering to keep it relevant.
Andreassi let Allyn Burrows as Hamlet keep the words up front and center stage, which is where Shakespeare’s insights belong. Over the past couple of years I have gained a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare. In fact, I have gotten to the point where I would claim that William Shakespeare was the most insightful human ever to set ink to a page. What he knew about humans and human nature predates Freud, Skinner, James, and Jung and surpasses what they knew, even if you put it all together.
Along with Burrows, Alvin Epstein, Lisa Bostnar, Tamara Hickey, and Mark Zeisler performed well in meaty roles. Their collective restraint served the story well and allowed Shakespeare’s insights the spotlight they deserve.
Which is not to say that the Elm Shakespeare’s Hamlet is merely a series of psychological truths set in a story. If it were, it would ring flat. The genius of Shakespeare is that these nuggets of truth are set in the midst of compelling, engaging stories. And the beauty of Jim Andreassi’s Hamlet is that he strikes the right balance between the story and the truths.
The play, alternating with Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, runs for two more weeks, and you can bet we will be back many more times before the run is through.

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