If you’re going to do Hamlet, the play that defined, to some extent, the modern understanding of the human being, (or, at least, the play that confused all previous understandings) you really have to do it well.
Of course, we can’t all be great Shakespearean actors; but when the line “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” is announced so timidly that it sounds like a question rather than an eternal theatrical pronouncement, we are left rather unsatisfied. Camele-Ann White’s ‘?? production of Hamlet this weekend is well-directed and, at some moments, impressively acted — but the acting is, unfortunately, too inconsistent to pull off Shakespeare’s masterpiece.
We do get some truly outstanding performances in this production. Peter Cook ’05 as the old, long-winded, meddling but certainly not malevolent Polonius is quite remarkable; we can hardly believe that so young an actor could play the part so naturally and effectively. Haile Owusu ’02, with his enchanting face and steady, booming bass voice, is a pleasure to watch as Claudius. By the end, unfortunately, we realize that his ease on stage has covered up the fact that his character’s motivations and depth are unclear — but at least we had a good time being fooled. And Ian Lowe ‘??, who plays several smaller roles including Guildenstern and the wonderful gravedigger, is truly delightful, and we wish we could have seen much, much more of him.
What’s missing here, of course, is the brilliant, complex Hamlet himself, the character who revolutionized, or invented, our conception of human depth — and the dream-job of every self-satisfied actor. Ambjorn Elder ’02 certainly has, in this production, Kenneth Branaugh’s cute brunette goatee; unfortunately he doesnt have Branaughs vision. Ambjorn rushes through, and sometimes even slurs the immortal words that Shakespeare has scripted for him; his posture is unnatural and his speech and facial expressions are dull and sometimes strained; in the end, we are not enthralled by Hamlet, but are rather somewhat bored by him.
The other roles are unremarkably played as well. White’s directing, though, is for the most part impressive. The scene in the theater, for example, in which practically the whole cast is on stage, is quite elegantly put together. But in this play about human complexity acting is everything, and in the end neither the directing, nor the few outstanding performances can pull it off. For when the Prince of Denmark seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to take to a party, and his story seems not all that interesting, we know that something has gone drastically wrong.