Monday, October 27, 2008

Behind Blue Eyes

Ms. Lewis’s review of CAT's “The Nerd” showed up on Saturday – you can read her thoughts here.

Thanks to a fortuitous scheduling situation and a truly wonderful mother-in-law, I was able to slip out to see “Hamlet” on Friday night and I was glad I did. This is a production that would have required me to find new reserves of professional detachment to write a publishable review about, though. And that is thanks primarily to Andrew Hamm’s rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes” during intermission. I have my own overwrought relationship with that song, an anthem for sensitive hormone-laden adolescent boys everywhere.

But besides the simple aesthetic enjoyment of Mr. Hamm’s performance, the song made me reflect on something I’ve never really appreciated in all of the half-dozen other times I’ve seen Hamlet. It’s a story of a relatively regular guy (as regular as a Prince can be) who is confronted by truly extraordinary circumstances. It’s not bad enough that his dad’s died suddenly and his uncle’s married his mom, but then a ghost has appeared to him (something that’d freak most anyone out regardless of the specific shape of the phantom) in the shape of his dead dad telling him he was murdered. Is it any wonder he goes a little wacky?

Jeff Cole’s performance enhances this “every man” aspect of Hamlet. Other Hamlets I’ve seen, both on stage and on screen (exs: Foster Solomon, David Bridgewater, Mel Gibson, etc.) have seemed somehow larger than life. But Mr. Cole is princely without being ostentatious and his extreme emotions don’t seem to emerge from an outsized personality but from a well-meaning, loving son being compelled to vengeance and acts sure to wreck his life. It is a nicely contained but still compelling portrayal.

And his relationship with his Ophelia is heartbreaking. Master of Play Grant Mudge adds an intriguing element to this relationship by having Hamlet deliver his “to be or not to be” soliloquy to Ophelia, adding a humanistic element to an essentially existential contemplation. This staging puts everything Hamlet has to lose in stark relief. These are not the musing of a navel-gazing royal; they’re the heartfelt measuring of life by a young man in love.

It doesn’t hurt that Liz Blake plays Ophelia with such a sweet devotion to her prince. My crush on Ms. Blake has been well-documented in this space so I won’t dwell on my impression of her talents except to point out that her duet with Mr. Hamm as part of the pre-show was simply lovely. Richmond Shakespeare’s growing tradition of adding pre-show and intermission entertainment is a great addition to their performance philosophy.

I have always had a quibble with Ophelia’s eventual descent. It just doesn’t quite seem organic to me. Sure she loved her dad but also seemed to have some issues with his pomposity. And sure she was falling for Hamlet but their courtship was still relatively young. With her brother also out of the picture, it does not surprise me that she becomes a bit unmoored. That she would respond with a full-out mental breakdown however, in my opinion diminishes a character who I wish could be as strong and admirable as the title character.

There are many other things I could and probably should say about this production – final fight scene was awesome; nothing against Catherine Bryne but Melissa Jones-Price remains my favorite onstage Gertrude – but mostly I’ve been processing my own personal reflections that the play prompted which I guess in itself is a testament to the power of the production. Still, I cannot let it go without mentioning Timothy Saukiavicus’s powerhouse performance as Claudius. He is convincingly regal but has the self-aggrandizing pomp of a true politician and the slimy edge of someone willing to kill his own brother. I’ll be hoping to see Mr. S. in more local productions in the future.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see such positive praise for RS's HAMLET. Jeff Cole is a great guy, and his comeuppance in Richmond theatre since THE LARK and NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH has been a delight to see. Liz Blake is a cutie pie, and is really cutting some nice dramatic chops here in the last year or so. This looks like a fine production with a stellar cast. I look forward to it myself.

Andrew Hamm said...


You have described everything I love about Jeff Cole's Hamlet. It is such a joy to play with an actor who doesn't see the Dane as some existential, angelic being made of pure thought. He's always a man in real circumstances first. Bravo to him. And it's a hell of a lot of fun playing with him every night. Especially when he throws a skull at me and I have yucky skull hands.

It's a thrill to see such positive attention given to young actors who are fairly new on the scene: Jeff, Liz and Joe in particular. The more seasoned actors like 'Rick, Tim and Catherine bring out great stuff in the less experienced performers, and the reverse. My single favorite part of my job is casting, and this is why.

As a side note, the "word verification" for this post is undoleti which sounds like an elvish word for something evil.