The Prince of Darkness
Hamlet at the Vortex Theatre
By Steven Robert Allen
He's depressed. He's unpredictable. He disrespects his elders. He's fond of weaponry. He always dresses in black. Hamlet sounds like your average unruly delinquent, right?
Shakespeare's troubled Danish prince still fascinates audiences 400-some years after he was first inked onto a page then thrust onto a stage because Hamlet, fundamentally, is a riddle—and a really good riddle at that. Just when you think you know him, this play proves you wrong.
You know the story. Hamlet's father has been dead only two months and his mother has already married his Uncle Claudius. Hamlet is pissed off. He feels betrayed. He feels angry. He feels like he needs to take it out on someone—and he does, mainly on his poor girlfriend, Ophelia. Yet when his dead father appears to him as a ghost, saying Claudius murdered him so he could take over the Danish throne, Hamlet really gets into an angry funk. He immediately vows to kill his uncle.
That much is understandable. Of course, this isn't your standard Hollywood revenge flick. Shakespeare knows how to plunge the depths of human consciousness, and he never plunges deeper than in this character.
I can't tell you how lucky we are to have Tricklocker Chad Brummett playing this role. I've seen Brummett play quite a few crazies on stage, and I think his theatrical experience with lunacy serves him well here. Not that Hamlet is crazy, mind you—not exactly. That's part of the riddle we're still trying to figure out four centuries on.
Brummett throws so much focused, skillful passion into this enigmatic role. In his best moments, and there are a lot of them, he truly lives it.
This year marks the Vortex Theatre's 30th anniversary. This two-and-a-half-hour, judiciously edited version of Hamlet is directed by Peter Shea Kierst, who's played a substantial role in the Vortex since the early years, serving as artistic director from 1981-1983 and even playing Hamlet in 1983.
Kierst does a fabulous job pulling off a production of a play that is, to put it euphemistically, challenging. All of the performances are at least good, with Rory Cobb doing particularly enjoyable work as a wormy, irritating Claudius. The geometric set—sort of an abstract, multilayered Danish castle with an oceanic sheen—is both flexible and beautiful. The simple, velvety costumes are attractive and hint at a vaguely historical time period. The classical music is unobtrusive.
Brummett rules this stage, though. His take on Hamlet is idiosyncratically brilliant. His prince is more extroverted, more physical than you might be used to from other filmed or staged versions. He inserts twists of emotion that are often surprising—shifting quickly, in one scene, from disturbing violent rage to clowning humor.
During the opening night performance, Brummett got so worked up during his first monologue that he actually started weeping. In such scenes, he forces you to believe him. I see a lot of theater in this town, and, to tell you the truth, I don't often get the urge to see a production twice. If I know what's good for me, this should be an exception.
Hamlet Special Events
Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare directed by Peter Shea Kierst, runs through April 16 at the Vortex Theatre. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 6 p.m. $12. 247-8600.
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