Review: a swift and lean rock-star ‘Hamlet’

As Post5 starts a half-million-dollar campaign for a new home, the great Dane prevaricates quickly

Last weekend at Post5 Theatre, managing director Corinne Patel announced a capital campaign seeking a little more than a half-million dollars to enable the company to find “our forever home.” She didn’t say where that forever home might be, only that it would be closer to the homes of their core patrons who have been driving out to Northeast 82nd Avenue; no doubt the secret is in the ticket system’s zip code data.

The campaign, while not exactly big-money, is a sign of ambition from a little, out-of-the-way theater company started just a few years ago by a pair of twenty-something guys from Southern Oregon. But Orion Bradshaw (who recently ceded the managing director job to Patel and became outreach coordinator) and artistic director/resident leading man Ty Boice have shown the pluck to get their fledgling off the ground.

Ambition and pluck come together, too, in Post5’s production of Hamlet, a lean and muscular push through this masterpiece’s challenging terrain.

Gorham as Claudius, Boice as Hamlet, Hadley Boyd as Gertrude. Photo: Russell J. Young

Gorham as Claudius, Boice as Hamlet, Hadley Boyd as Gertrude. Photo: Russell J. Young

Hamlet, to put it mildly, is a complicated guy. En route to the avenging of his father’s murder, he wrestles with a host of questions — practical, ethical, spiritual, perhaps even epistemological and existential. When he’s not tipping precipitously into either indignation or despair, he’s evincing a peculiar sort of brash uncertainty.

Clad in black, his blazer collar upturned, his eyes hidden behind large sunglasses, Boice’s Hamlet takes the stage as a rock-star prince, studied in his melancholy and emotional distance. Tall, blond and handsome, he looks the part of young Danish royalty.

The tricky part of playing Hamlet is making his intensely mercurial nature feel authentic and compelling; to render it somehow emotionally coherent yet still psychologically inscrutable. Boice hits this mark better in some scenes than in others. Bamboozling Polonius, the King’s adviser, he shows deft comic timing and shifting tones in his flagrant display of (real or feigned?) madness. Jousting verbally with the nefarious King Claudius — who has killed Hamlet’s father and taken both crown and queen — or with his erstwhile school pals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.

At other times, Hamlet’s famously reflective eloquence pours out of him too quickly, a pressurized flow of verbiage. Quite why the speech speeds ahead, or occasionally slows markedly, isn’t clear as a matter of attitude or thought progression. Perhaps it’s meant to suggest a racing mind, fueled by a volatile combination of youth, grief, passion, confusion and fear. In any case, Boice does make Hamlet convincing as a character who could and should be a man of action, but whose thinking gets in the way.

As much as a Hamlet rides on its Hamlet, such a complex central character needs strong figures to play against. Jeff Gorham’s Claudius is conniving and ruthless, but never a cardboard villain; he wants what he wants, and that means he must stay his course just as much as Hamlet must his own. As Claudius is Hamlet’s foil in an ethical sense, Polonius is in a generational one, contrasting the young prince’s perceptive, questioning nature with a seasoned courtier’s dull certitude. Tobias Andersen, clipboard ever in hand, renders the old windbag as at once comically fatuous and admirably paternal; we can laugh at him, yet still feel for him.

Speaking of foils, Laertes, the son of Polonius, both is one and wields one. His father, like Hamlet’s, is slain, but unlike the prevaricating prince, he moves swiftly and furiously to action. Jake Street’s coiled, muscular intensity is just right for the role, especially in the climactic swordplay that brings all plots to a point.

What might stand out most in this production, though, is the prominence of Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal confidant. Casting a woman in the role — especially an emotionally attuned actor who also happens to be the leading man’s wife, Cassandra Boice — highlights the closeness and tenderness in the friendship as Horatio watches and even helps Hamlet along his collision course with tragedy.

Director Paul Angelo has done his part here, too. A spare scenic approach, utilizing merely a few curtains, chairs and small tables, lets the action flow, as do a few judicious trims to the text (such as clipping all the odd business at the end wherein Fortinbras, an invading Norwegian, is handed the Danish crown). Presenting the play’s most renowned scene, Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, illuminated by only an intermittently flickering lighter is a terrifically apt choice, both visually and thematically. And though he needlessly presents the actors in the “play within the play” as inept boobs, and lets Phillip J. Berns ham it up far too egregiously (as is his wont) as the flippant gravedigger, Angelo otherwise draws smart, well-measured performances from the cast.

The truest ambition, after all, is founded on steady work and small yet worthwhile achievements. This Hamlet surely counts.

*

Post5’s Hamlet continues through May 4. Ticket and schedule information here.

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