EDITOR’s NOTE: All of this weekend’s performances of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet were sold out when this review was filed following the final dress rehearsal on Wednesday (Jan. 29), but late cancellations could make some tickets available. Contact information is listed at the bottom.
By George Basler
Revenge, murder, madness and a final scene that leaves dead bodies littered on the floor — all this is on display this weekend at the Phelps Mansion Museum in Binghamton in an entertaining, if not especially profound, production of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Hamlet.
If brevity is the soul of wit (to quote a line from Hamlet), the production, directed by well-known local actor Chris Nickerson, has a lot going for it. Nickerson has pared the play down to a brisk 90 minutes, compared to a more than four-hour running time when the play first opened back in 1609.
A major plus of the stripped-down version is that the production moves at a rapid pace without lulls, or digressions, in the action. Another plus is its intimacy. The staging in the Phelps Mansion means the actors are extremely close to the audience as the action moves from room to room on the mansion’s first two floors. This closeness heightens the play’s dark and claustrophobic atmosphere.
The downside is that some of Hamlet’s best-known scenes get scrapped. Absent is the well-known “players’ scene” when a troupe of traveling actors come to Elsinore Castle to perform. Also absent is the gravedigger’s scene (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”) in which Hamlet confronts his own mortality. As a result, some of the play’s deeper themes – such as philosophical meditations on life and death — get short shrift.
Moreover, the condensed narrative causes the play’s final scenes — Ophelia’s funeral and a climatic duel — to be presented in a rather abrupt fashion.
Still, while Shakespeare purists may cringe at the production’s omissions, enough of the big scenes and monologues are still on full display. And the 11-member cast does a solid job presenting them.
In the lead role, Adam Holley does commendable work in playing one of the most complex characters in dramatic literature. His interpretation leans heavily on conveying the rage and bitterness that overwhelms the character and corrodes his sanity. It’s an effective approach.
Holley also does a job good catching Hamlet’s potent mixture of emotional torment and moroseness. His brutal dismissal of Ophelia, his former love, in Act I is blood-curdling. Holley falls a bit short, however, in conveying Hamlet’s indecisiveness, which is one of the character’s great flaws.
That quibble aside, the performance is well worth seeing.
The same can be said of Jessica Nogaret’s heartbreaking Ophelia. Her desperation as Hamlet brutally rejects her painful to watch, just as it should be. The emotionally vulnerable girl’s descent into madness later in the play is done just as effectively with mannerisms and expressions that show a mind that has become unhinged. It’s very nicely done.
(As an aside, Nogaret’s performance makes me wonder if anyone has written, or is considering, rewriting, the Bard’s play from Ophelia’s point of view. This could be very interesting in the “Me Too” era.)
In another key role, Nickerson gives a skillfully understated performance as the slimy, cold-blooded Claudius. Amy Smith is touching as Hamlet’s befuddled and concerned mother. Charles Berman gives a fine comic turn as Ophelia’s father, the pompous and dimwitted Polonius, and Nick DeLucia does a spooky turn as the ghost of Hamlet’s father.
In a smaller role, Gil Choi leaves a strong impression as Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, who vows vengeance against Hamlet for his sister’s death. Choi makes the character’s emotional pain compellingly real.
A special mention goes to Josh Sedelmeyer, who choreographed the final duel between Hamlet and Laertes in a way that looks realistically dangerous.
In the end, the Phelps production works most effectively as a revenge tragedy rather than a deep probe of Shakespeare’s great work. On its own terms, though, it’s an effective piece of work.
Be forewarned, nobody ends up in a happy place.
IF YOU GO: Performances are at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 31-Feb. 2) at the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton.
Tickets are $25; call 722-4873.