HAMLET IS A GRAND PLAY. Ghosts, international politics, numerous competing murder plots... angst. It's strange to see a play this big produced at Post5 Theatre's small black box—the low ceilings and exposed pipes don't seem ideal for such an epic tragedy.
Yet Post5 embraces its claustrophobic stage. In director Paul Angelo's production, much of the historical and political grandness is dropped in favor of the intimacies that make the melancholy Dane a classic: Hamlet's relationship with his parents and his murderous "uncle father" Claudius are the focus.
The cast very nicely plays up Shakespeare's irreverent, often bawdy humor. Tobias Andersen as Polonius is the definition of doddering, and Phillip J. Berns' gravedigger is roughly 100 times bigger than anyone else in the play. Even Hamlet's own jokes and jibes, as mean as they are funny, are played up. Hamlet spends much of the play pretending to be mad, to keep his enemies confused. Ty Boice plays the prince with an air of hairpin dangerousness, a manic landmine hopping around the stage, hugging everyone and daring them to hug him too hard.
Hamlet's famous contemplation of suicide, the "to be or not to be" speech, takes place in near perfect darkness, illuminated with flashes of a lighter's flame. It's an intense, fresh rendition of a well-known scene, and although it may actually be too dark, to the point that the audience far from the stage doesn't know soon enough what Hamlet's up to, it is a tense, unforgettable moment.
That scene is, however, somewhat unearned in Hamlet performed at such a clip. Boice plays the madness so well that the melancholy seems to take a backseat. Much of the urgency is also lost without the historical/political context. However, Jessica Tidd is excellent as Ophelia, racked by confusion and grief; she's as genuinely, deliriously insane as Hamlet pretends to be. Jeff Gorham's Claudius is a complex mess of avuncular aloofness and seedy, sad ambition. His desperate attempt at grief and guilt in prayer is one of the best scenes in this production.
The multimedia element (film flashbacks of Hamlet with his father) is seamlessly joined with the stage, and the closeness of the audience and even the lowness of the ceilings help keep the play intimate and accessible. It's nice to see a Hamlet who looks up and knows the world is falling in on him, because the ceiling is inches from his face.