Monday, October 12, 2009

Hamlet


I had never liked the character of Hamlet before, but Jude Law gives him such depth and strength that I was mesmerized. The rest of the cast blurs in my mind but Law stands out as the noble prince Shakespeare meant Hamlet to be, not the indecisive, immature youth he can too easily be perceived as. What a nice discovery to find that this sexy Hollywood actor can master The Bard with the best of them.

Hamlet is an especially challenging role because his great soliloquies are so well known they can sound like clich├ęs. It must be hard to make “To be, or not to be” sound new, but Law did. It was as if I were hearing the lines for first time. And his “What a piece of work is a man” was a theatrical moment to remember, for his verbal delivery as well as his facial expressions, gestures and movement of his body. He is intensely focused and so Hamlet is fully realized.

Director Michael Grandage has staged the production, a transfer from London’s Donmar Warehouse, in a way that particularly shines attention on Hamlet. The stage is stark and bleak (set and costume design by Christopher Oram), the lighting (designed by Neil Austin) dark and ominous, a fitting way to present a play that begins with the ghost of the King of Denmark roaming the land, wanting to make it known he had been murdered by his brother, who then hastily married his wife. Perfect atmosphere for his grief-stricken son, Hamlet, to ponder how he will avenge his father’s death.

The New York production, at the Broadhurst Theatre through Dec. 6, follows sold-out engagements of 12 weeks in London, where the play was first seen in about 1600, and six performances in Kronberg Castle in Elsinore, the town in eastern Denmark where the play is set. The Broadway cast includes members of both productions.

Law, a film star known for his roles in "Alfie" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," starred in both previous runs. He has been on Broadway once before, in 1995, when he earned a Tony nomination at 22 for his role in Indiscretions.

This production of Hamlet is so vastly superior to the train wreck of a show I saw last summer at the Delacorte that it’s as if they were two entirely different plays. Law and Grandage deserve most of the credit for this. The other cast members range from serviceable to weak.

Tickets for Hamlet are available at the Broadhurst Theatre box office, 235 W. 44th St., by calling (212) 239-6200 or visiting www.telecharge.com. More than 100 tickets priced at $25 will be available at every performance through Telecharge.com and the Broadhurst Theatre box office. Visit www.HamletBroadway.com for more information.

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