Bare-bones ‘Hamlet’ a fresh adaptation

I alway hate driving into Santa Monica, but I also love Shakespeare and the promise of a fresh interpretation of “Hamlet” took me to the Broad Stage for a production by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This production is worth braving L.A. traffic, but don’t put off too long. “Hamlet” only runs until Nov. 25.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst, this is a brash, fast-paced presentation that embraces its theatrical roots. We aren’t asked to believe we’re in Denmark. In the center of the stage, there is another stage, one built of unpainted planks as if we were in a ramshackle old building where a group of players performs. They can’t afford elaborate costumes (costume and set design by Jonathan Fensom), but make due with minor changes as they tromp the boards in their subdued colored clothes (except for Ophelia’s bright yellow dress).   The props and costumes hang on one of the three sides of this stage-within-a-stage. There’s a faded red curtain on each side which is drawn to good effect for the Players’ segment for the performance of “The Murder of Gonzogo.” All cast members take on more than one role except for Michael Benz who plays the title character Hamlet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Hamlet” takes place in Elsinore, the castle where Hamlet senior once reigned as king. His spirit appears to guards outside that castle and we know that ghosts only come back for a reason. King Hamlet was soon replaced by his brother Claudius (Dickon Tyrrell) who married  the widowed queen Gertrude (Miranda Foster) so soon, the prince Hamlet (Benz) jokes that “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats. Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”

In “Hamlet,” we have three sons who must honor their fathers.  The second son is the impetuous Laertes (Matthew Romain) who bids farewell to his sister Ophelia (Carlyss Peer) by warning her to guard her virtue against Hamlet’s hot pursuit. Their father Polonius gives Laertes advice before he leaves. Polonius believes Hamlet’s melancholy stems from his infatuation with Ophelia. Yet the ghost of Hamlet senior has informed Hamlet of his brother Claudius’ treachery. Prince Hamlet has murder on his mind.

Hamlet will mistakenly kill Polonius and Ophelia will also die. This sets Laertes on the course for revenge, something that Claudius uses to his advantage. The third son is one we only hear of until the end: Fortinbras (Peter Bray) is a prince who seeks to reclaim land that was lost under his father’s rule when King Hamlet killed King Fortinbras in a battle that occurred before the opening of this play.

The play is 2 hours and 40 minutes and yet seems to race along, making Benz’s Hamlet seem less mopey. Benz is blonde, slender and athletic and his Hamlet is not over-analyzing the situation so much as trying to come to terms with his mother’s role and destruction of his world. His Hamlet sees only tragedy ahead for himself. Peer brings a poignant intelligence to Ophelia. What helps make this production so upbeat and lively despite the number of corpses that litter the stage at the end, is the original score by Laura Forrest-Hay and composer arranger Bill Barclay. The actors also dance at the beginning and ending (choreography by Sian Williams).

In all this is a tale well-told and well-worth telling. Get up and go before Nov. 25 when  “Hamlet” closes. Try to be there early, because the Globe Theatre has a special surprise before the show. There’s nothing musty about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s story. “Hamlet” continues until Nov. 25 at the Broad Stage Theatre, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica. Unlike most theaters, Broad Stage is not dark on Mondays.

  • Join Us! Premier A B BUY
  • 15 Nov Thu 7:30 PM $175 $125 $95 Buy
  • 16 Nov Fri 7:30 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy
  • 17 Nov Sat 2:00 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy
  • 17 Nov Sat 7:30 PM $137 $100 $87 Buy
  • 18 Nov Sun 7:30 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy
  • 19 Nov Mon 7:30 PM $89 $72 $54 Buy
  • 21 Nov Wed 2:00 PM $89 $72 $54 Buy
  • 23 Nov Fri 2:00 PM $89 $72 $54 Buy
  • 23 Nov Fri 7:30 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy
  • 24 Nov Sat 2:00 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy
  • 24 Nov Sat 7:30 PM $137 $100 $87 Buy
  • 25 Nov Sun 2:00 PM $110 $85 $67 Buy

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