REVIEW of Bedlam’s HAMLET

--by Brent Buell

Call me uncultured, but truth be told, I was getting tired of Shakespeare.  It seems like this season everyone is honoring the Bard, and that’s great—but really? Again?

And then a miracle happened opening night (Nov. 19) at the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Bleecker Street in NoHo: The Bedlam Theater presentation of HAMLET.  Oh . . my . . god.  My fellow satiated and cynical New Yorkers, you think you have seen everything—and then you see these four astonishing actors create every moment of the world’s most famous play—and you feel like you’ve never seen it or anything like it before.

While honoring the text of Shakespeare’s masterwork, these genius inventors of theater (and that is what they are) have so happily understood the words, so thoroughly relished the complexities of plot and so freshly looked at how this 400 year old play fits today’s world—that something entirely new happens.  It’s not that they have changed the play to make it “relevant,” or tried to do a lot of bells and whistles to make us “gee wow.”  No, they have immersed themselves in the wonder of the master—and without a hint of fake reverential intonation (something available wholesale these days), have gleaned the excitement and humor (who knew?) that has always been there, usually hidden.

It seems impossible that four people could reenact HAMLET and have any audience—no matter how astute and familiar with the play—follow anything.  But follow it we do.  As Andrus Nichols instantly transforms herself from Gertrude to Ophelia and back again, as Edmund Lewis brings us Polonius, Horatio and a host of other characters, or as Tom O’Keefe morphs from Claudius to a nervous servant and back again—we, the audience are always firmly rooted in the story.  And even though theatrical magic is happening before our eyes, we remain unaware of that artistry because we are living and breathing every heartbeat with Eric Tucker’s HAMLET.

Hamlet’s great soliloquies come to life—and where in some productions I’m tempted to repeat them word for word in my head, in this production I felt the authenticity and sincerity of them to such an extent that I forgot that I knew them, and just experienced them with all their emotional impact and sense of discovery.

I loved the fact that Bedlam allows us to have a good time amidst greatness—while never mocking, never cheapening the play.  The Lynn Redgrave theater is reconfigured for each act—with the audience sometimes facing the back of the theater, sitting on the stage, or surrounding it.  But it is never just for being “different.”  Bedlam accomplishes an immersion of the audience in the action of the play.  The appearance of the ghost is actually frightening—and there are times that one would swear that there was a cast of twenty surrounding every side.  (I will admit that sitting on the front row during a sword fight afforded me a kind of terror that the lead car of the Cyclone Racer has given me many times).  Let me say it again.  When you are in the audience, you live HAMLET.

This is the same company with the same four actors who are also performing George Bernard Shaw’s ST. JOAN every alternate night.  There too the text is the thing—but as many times as I’ve seen Shaw’s play, it was as thought I had never seen it before.

Understudy Samatha Steinmetz appears in several scenes most usefully, and I don’t want to leave her out.

Tickets at:  http://www.theatrebedlam.org/#!stage/c8ui

The Lynn Redgrave Theater

45 Bleecker Street

New York, NY 10012

 

HAMLET is directed by Eric Tucker who plays the title character (another astonishing feat).

 

Scenic Design: John McDermott

Lighting Design: Les Dickert

Fight Choreographer: Trampas Thompson

Dramaturg: Katherine Goodland

Assistant Scenic Designer: Clifton Chadick

Assistant Lighting Designer: Juliana Beecher

Master Electrician Will Hansen

Production Stage Manager: Katherine Whitney

Assistant Stage Manager: Rachel Esther Tate

General Management: Perry Street Theatricals (David Elliott and Martin Platt)

Associate General Manager: Jennifer Pluff

 

HAMLET and ST. JOAN are produced by Meredith Lucio, Sarah Hancock, Ron Simons, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Patrick Blake, David Elliot and Martin Platt.