‘Hamlet’ opens at the Rep

Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti ’89 DRA ’94 plays the title role in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Hamlet.”
Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti ’89 DRA ’94 plays the title role in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Hamlet.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Alas, poor Yorick, who didn’t get a ticket to see “Hamlet” at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

The show had already been sold out for over a week when the first audience members got to see the much-anticipated production on March 15, the theater’s most commercially successful in at least 11 years. The show stars Academy Award nominee and New Haven native Paul Giamatti ’89 DRA ’94 in the title role and is directed by School of Drama Dean and Yale Repertory Theatre Artistic Director James Bundy DRA ’95, who has the choice of what he would like to direct in a given season.

Steven Padla, the School of Drama’s senior associate director of communications, accounted for the show’s extraordinary popularity by the combination of “[Giamatti] and this particular role.” The rest of the cast features professional actors, many of whom are Yale alumni, as well as current students at the School of Drama and Yale College. At 21 actors and four onstage musicians, “Hamlet” is a larger production than any other show taken on by the Rep this season, with others featuring between two and 12 performers.

“I think that the Yale and New Haven communities have infused the entire event with a tremendous sense of homecoming,” Padla said. “These are communities that take great pride in the accomplishments of their own, and are thrilled to welcome back Paul Giamatti.”

Padla said in an email that the Rep sold out individual performances of “Marie Antoinette” and “Stones in His Pockets” earlier this season.

“It’s not uncommon for many performances to sell out once word of mouth around town and campus begins to kick in,” Padla said. “But it’s a first to sell out the entire run before the first performance.”

Critical responses, which began appearing Friday, have generally been favorable, with some reservations. Lauren Yarger, whose review of “Hamlet” appeared on the Connecticut Arts Connection blog, Manchester’s Journal Inquirer and Broadwayworld.com, said she was struck by the show’s contemporary feel, which she thinks would appeal effectively to younger audiences.

“Hamlet” will be the Rep’s “Will Power!” production this season — an educational initiative that runs alongside a show each year — and includes specially priced tickets and earlier matinee performances designed to accommodate student groups. Padla said over 3,000 Connecticut and New Haven high school students will see the show, and that for many, “Hamlet” will be their first exposure to Shakespeare performed onstage.

Yarger added that the show was much funnier than many interpretations of the classic tragedy, saying “it found humor in dialogue I hadn’t noticed was there before.” Boston Globe theater critic Don Aucoin said he sees the Rep’s “Hamlet” as part of a recent trend of “Hamlet” productions that have adopted a more comic tone, while adding that he felt the show was less successful in conveying the play’s tragic aspects.

“It may be that after so many decades or centuries of playing ‘Hamlet’ as a very somber tragedy [that] directors are now looking to mine the lighter side,” Aucoin said.

Yarger attributed the show’s popularity to the name recognition of Giamatti and actors such as Marc Kudisch, who is best known for his roles in Broadway musicals such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

“Every time you get a larger star in a role, that starts the people talking and the tickets selling,” Yarger said. “I really think it’s a very fresh production.”

Jessica Buckey ’15 said that while she has never attended a Rep show in the past, she was disappointed not to get “Hamlet” tickets since it is one of her favorite plays.

“It has gotten a lot of hype,” she said. “I expected it would be a great version of the show.”

While some theaters can extend the runs of successful, sold-out productions, Padla said such a move would be “almost impossible” for the Rep during the academic year, because the Rep and School of Drama production calendars are locked in place a year in advance.

Padla said the show has a waitlist for every performance, which hopeful viewers can sign up for at the University Theatre an hour before the show begins. He added that the theater has so far been able to accommodate many who have signed up for the waitlist.

“Hamlet” will run at the University Theatre through April 13.

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