EmptySegerstrom Stage, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Through July 1
Experienced director Daniel Sullivan surrounds his outrageous young Hamlet, played by Hamish Linklater, with a bland if steady supporting cast and a safe, conventional setting. The resulting production scurries along with such unreflecting alacrity, and corresponding lack of emotional complexity, that it only begins to suggest why's there such a fuss about "Hamlet."
The performance treats its audience broadly and with an emphasis on melodrama -- as the opening-night audience might have been treated 500 years ago -- but with little sense of personal connection. There is a lack of intellectual curiosity or emotional involvement in the issues of individual action, kingship, revenge, sexual repression and incest that modern audiences have come to expect as a large part of what makes Shakespeare great.
Still, all the well-known elements are there: the ghost on the ramparts (Richard Doyle), whose confession to Hamlet sets the terrible story into motion. The fool Polonius (Dakin Matthews), whose endless cliches dribble off his lips as if they were great poetry. The royal couple Claudius and Gertrude (Robert Foxworth and Linda Gehringer), whose appetite for life blinds them to the mortal penalties they must pay. The helpless pawn, sweet Ophelia (Brooke Bloom), whose spirit is crushed so brutally that she can stand it no more. And Ophelia's brother, Laertes (Graham Hamilton), whose resort to a poisoned sword is so at odds with his noble character.
The talented Linklater, who plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus' brother on the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and whose mother is a well-known acting coach, has lots of equipment to throw at the part and is impressively aware of the effects to be made through the rhythm and tones as well as the words of his soliloquies. He delivers his opening monologue in a near-hysterical rage, reads others in sing-song monotone and still others in an unexpectedly natural manner. Linklater further delineates his character with physical work that ranges seamlessly from limp to bold and many shades between. It is an ambitious if occasionally self-conscious performance that unsettles the other characters as much as it does the audience.
The precise and professional supporting cast are perhaps too solid for the play's excitement quotient in the cases of Foxworth and Gehringer, who, presumably through no fault of their own, wander around more like chess pieces than flesh-and-blood characters. Matthews shows excellent comic timing as Polonius, Doyle as the ghost is superb, and Hal Landon Jr. as the Gravedigger masterfully sets up Hamlet's "Poor Yorick" speech. Hamilton's Laertes manages to break through the general haze with moments of totally convincing passion. And Bloom's Ophelia is heartbreakingly helpless and innocent, with a lovely voice in her songs.
Breughel's famous painting as the backdrop creates a provocative ambiance complemented by Obadiah Eaves' vivid, occasionally noisy music. Ralph Funicello's handsome, dark set features a large platform in the middle on which the actors play and room around it to which they retire when not required. The costumes are consistent with the time, elegant in a heavy and drab way, while Hamlet, in keeping with his no-holds-barred outsider status, wears what seems to be retro Gap outfits.
Presented by South Coast Repertory
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Costume designer: Ilona Somogyi
Set designer: Ralph Funicello
Lighting designer: Pat Collins
Composer/sound designer: Obadiah Eaves
Fight director: Robin McFarquhar
Hamlet: Hamish Linklater
Claudius: Robert Foxworth
Ophelia: Brooke Bloom
Gertrude: Linda Gehringer
Laertes: Graham Hamilton
Polonius: Dakin Matthews
Horatio: Michael Urle
Ghost/others: Richard Doyle
Gravedigger/others: Hal Landon Jr.
Fortinbras/others: David DeSantos
Rosencrantz/others: Henri Lubatti
Guildenstern/others: Jeff Marlow