American Players Theatre: Hamlet

To be or not to be…almost became not to be when I waited until the very last day to stream the American Players Theatre Hamlet. And that would have been a silent tragedy as this is the most engaging and relatable version of Hamlet that I remember seeing.

Nick Burger as Hamlet with Yorick, photo courtesy of APT

As always, the focal point of this play is the character of Hamlet. And the play will be made or broken on how the actor perceives the personage of Hamlet, his relationships in the play, and how he decides to employ Hamlet’s apparent madness. Nate Burger was an incredible casting choice and here he is at the peak of his powers and as I said above…delivers a very real and very relatable Hamlet. This was just an incredible experience for me and now I am sorry that I didn’t make a second trek to Spring Green to see and hear this in person. Sometimes Hamlet as played is a bit too distant but here we feel an incredible empathy for and understanding of the character. Burger has always been an engaging actor, but this was simply his most outstanding performance!

Jamal James as Laertes, Chike’ Johnson as Polonius, photo courtesy of APT

Chike’ Johnson is the consummate Polonius. A bit haughty, a bit officious, but clearly a man in charge and a man in control of his destiny. Johnson has him down, precisely. I hope to see him in future APT productions…and sometime in the future, I’d like to see him play Claudius!

Triney Sandoval as Claudius, Colleen Madden as Getrude, photo courtesy of APT

And what a satisfying and regal couple we have in Colleen Madden as Gertrude and Triney Sandoval as Claudius. No doubts at all about the situation they find themselves in. No concerns in the world other than what the heck is wrong with Hamlet! Madden and Sandoval play the preening detached pair just the way you expect these two characters to act. And Sandoval’s reaction to the play within the play is priceless.

Laertes is played by Jamal James. And he easily takes on some of the characteristics explored by Johnson as Polonius…so he presents a striking and obvious son to the elder statesman. But he also, within propriety, exhibits the excitement of youth and that eagerness to strike out on his own in France…despite the obvious ties to his father’s purse strings. And in his own grief he is readily willing to conspire with Claudius to kill Hamlet.

Chike’ Johnson as Polonius, Alys Dickerson as Ophelia, photo courtesy of APT

And Alys Dickerson gives us the equally dutiful daughter, Ophelia, willing to listen to her father even though it goes against her heart. Dickerson gives a great reading of the doubtful young woman who is trying to balance social mores against her young persons instincts. She truly makes us feel the tragedy that befalls her character.

And the ghost of Hamlet’s father is played with sufficient regal bearing and foreboding by David Daniel to make us feel and fear his presence. Although I did feel that some of his spoken lines were overwrought…but his presence was quite intimidating on itself.

And this performance was perfectly understandable. No attempts to go deep into Elizabethan accents or pronunciations and as a result the dialogues gave us the complete story and the full beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry.

cast of Hamlet, photo courtesy of APT

And the costuming here was amazing. Of no discernible era, it enhanced the depiction of the characters in very transparent fashion. Daniele Tyler Mathews really outdid most costuming conventions for Shakespeare plays. Neither dependent on Elizabethan stylings nor outrageously usurping modern dress, Mathews combined styles across the centuries to complement the character’s traits and exemplify their actions in the play. So an Elizabethan vest here, an exaggerated 1930’s wide lapel man’s suit there, 1950’s clothing, an early 1960’s woman’s office casual jacket and slacks, to any number of costumes that bore a regal look without an identifiable period. And of course the costume for Hamlet’s father that helped install that ominous regal mien that David Daniel brought to bear here.

SO: this was directed by Jame DeVita. Bravo!! In past seasons the watch has always been, what is DeVita playing this season. Going forward we must all add to that, what is DeVita directing this season.

And to my readers, I am sorry. Because I procrastinated to long this has closed on stage as well as the streaming version. Hopefully the streamed version will be available again sometime in the future.

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