William Shakespeare's timeless tragedy, Hamlet, proved a groundbreaking production for the Gamm Theatre (then operating as Alias Stage) in 1997. Now, 14 years later, the Gamm Theatre revisits that initial success in a truly first-rate restaging of the earlier, highly-acclaimed theatrical piece.
The company's return to Hamlet also reunites Resident Director, FrEd Sullivan, Jr., with original cast members Tony Estrella (now the Gamm's Artistic Director) as Hamlet and Sam Babbitt as Polonius.
Estrella shines in the title role, portraying a deeply-layered and complex Prince of Denmark. There is a palpable weariness in Hamlet's abiding grief and method in his feigned madness, yet Estrella also provides glimpses of Hamlet's easy and infectious sense of humor. Hamlet's amusing and amicable frustration as he directs The Players in "The Mousetrap" contrasts both his desperate determination to converse with the ghost of the dead King and, later, the vehement bitterness that stays Hamlet's hand when provided with an opportunity for vengeance on his father's murderer.
Babbitt is an absolute treasure as Polonius. He so seamlessly fuses the character's marked influence over King Claudius with a warm, fatherly affection and doddering speeches as to neatly insinuate that hold innocuous to the royals. Babbitt's melodramatic reading of Ophelia's letter and his ironic complaint that The Players' act runs too long are brilliant examples of his wonderful expression and masterful comic timing. Babbitt builds such a rapport with the audience that Polonius' final scene draws an audible groan from the house.
GillIan Williams plays a spirited and confident Ophelia and is excellent during the scenes of Ophelia's madness, balancing moments of frenzied emotion with a nearly lucid calmness. Kelby T. Akin likewise shines during these scenes as Ophelia's brother Laertes, newly returned to Denmark to find his family in shambles. Akin powerfully expresses Laertes' raw grief and single-minded thoughts of revenge. Williams, Akin and Babbitt are brilliant on stage together during the first act, conveying a real sense of playful and affectionate family interaction. Those tender moments make the tragedies of the second act all the more heartbreaking.
Tom Gleadow - triple cast as the Ghost, First Player and First Gravedigger - has ample opportunity to demonstrate his range as an actor. Gleadow lights the stage, uninhibited and jolly, as the gravedigger, while his portrayal of the Ghostly king is deeply somber. Indeed, as the Ghost re-enacts his murder before Hamlet, Gleadow endues the late King with all the horror of his unconfessed sins.
Steve Kidd is a gregarious and charismatic King Claudius, yet after "The Mousetrap" pricks the King's conscience, Kidd presents a profoundly conflicted monarch. The guilt of his solitary confession crushes him to the stage floor but, in light of all he would lose to save his soul, Claudius cannot repent.
The Gamm's intimate space commands an audience's full investment in the show. The setting transforms Polonius' speeches into confidential conversations among friends, while Estrella delivers Hamlet's soliloquies as a prosecutor would present evidence before a jury.
With an absolutely brilliant cast, impeccable 1950s-style costumes and marvelous utilization of space, this production is polished start to finish - a Hamlet not to be missed.
The Gamm presents William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. This production runs through December 11 and ticket prices range from $34 to $42. To purchase tickets or inquire about special rates, contact the box office at (401) 723-4266 or visit the Gamm online at www.gammtheatre.org.