Capital Rep's Hamlet in Albany

Bare-bones Take on a Shakespeare Classic

By: - May 14, 2015

Swordfight 3 Ophelia’s grave The ghost king The Players

With this new production of Hamlet, director, Kevin McGuire, brings the focus back to the acting rather than on the spectacle of a show.  The stage of Capital Repertory Theater was cleared to the very back of the building so that the actors played on the very bones of the space.  The sparse scenic design by Roman Tatorowitcz consisted of two rolling monoliths, on one side an extension of the castle ramparts with ladders and crisscrossing iron railings, and on the other vast burnished mirrors, used to depict various interiors, shattered with linear slashes (somewhat reminiscent of anarchy graffiti).  

This geometric theme was further developed by intersecting lines taped out on the floor and the dark exes of trees affixed to the walls of the theater and bleeding out into the audience.  In the back, tucked under the catwalk and lit with an eerie green, was a long table and a few stacks of simple cane chairs (as could be found in the cafe piled off the floor at the end of the night).  Minimal props came on and off organically, moved by the players as they made their entrances and exits.  The clever costuming by David Zyla brought the production into a 1930s era and did much to help us navigate the various ranks of the characters while still remaining undistractingly minimal, graciously giving focus to the delivery of some of the bard’s most famous lines. 

Out of the gate the pace was brisk and lively- the frosty barefoot ghost king walks, the guards are frightened- all this accompanied by a low soundtrack of moaning wind which subtly but effectively enhanced the chill and urgency of the moment.  Later, when the apparition speaks to Hamlet, his voice boomed in projected surround sound as he urged the guards to secrecy.  “Swear..” washed over the audience, and in truth we dared not breath a word for we knew Terry Rabine was watching our every move although he was well offstage and into the lobby.  And then, with three startling metallic clanks and the flash of a strobe, the supernatural pall lifted.   

In general, the casting was excellent with crisp and concise control of the language and excellent dynamics particularly in the family circles.  Deanne Lorette played Queen Gertrude with elegant finesse, telling a story longer than any of her lines with strained smiles and searching eyes.  Her sparkling gowns and tall heels effectively helped to put the seed of doubt into the audience about her role in her late husband’s demise.  David Kenner did well with the complicated character of Hamlet and seemed to have great fun with the role.   He shone the most when pleading with his mother to not go to Claudius’ bed, sparking the stage with all the anger, hurt, jealousy and love infused in their relationship. 

Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia suited each other well with a perfect natural affection.  Christopher McCann rendered a humorous, loquacious and rambling elderly father and endeared himself to the audience with his sweet, loving tenderness to his children.  His Polonius was more than just an unfortunate busybody as he genuinely seemed to care about Hamlet’s perceived love-sickness and the well-being of his queen.  Although I knew that is was coming, it was sadder for me to see him die this time. 

Patrick Vaill played a son worthy of his father's pride and as the protective older brother he spoke to his beloved sister without any overtones of condescension. Vanessa Sterling, Ophelia, was the most interesting of the evening, both in physical appearance and portrayal.  Standing at 5’8” she commanded the stage like an Amazonian warrior- striking, yet not quintessentially pretty in the way we have come to expect our Ophelias to be.  Although she differed to her father and brother in matters of love, it was clear that she ultimately made her own decisions and that those decisions were grounded in good sense. When Hamlet cursed her to a nunnery she was offended, but not heart broken. Sterling’s Ophelia was so strong that her fall into madness at the death of her father seemed perhaps a bit less plausible, and yet she rendered it beautifully with an expressive singsong to a fanciful musical soundtrack to which only she and the audience were privy. It was a pleasure to see her perform. 

Other notable characters were the excellently awkward Rosencrantz played by Patrick Rooney and the upstanding and solicitous Guildenstern played by Paul Dederick.  Decked with steel rimmed glasses and collegiate knit sweaters, they seemed to always be waiting just outside the king’s chambers and ran to do errands with the certainty of a servant, apparently champions at navigating an unfamiliar castle's corridors.  Despite this slight staging oddity, they played the backstabbing fraternity brothers well, skillfully shifting from excitement at seeing their good friend Hamlet into confusion and discomfort as he toyed with them. 

The grave diggers, of course, are not to be forgotten.  Here they are reprised by two stars of the evening whose characters had already been disposed of; the multi-talented Terry Rabine (ghost, player king) and again  Christopher McCann (Polonius).  They return as drunk, simple, hard working men and it was great fun watching these two consummate actors at work digging their graves as the rest of the world unraveled around them. 

If you can, catch the final weekend of shows as this production has been extended through May 16th.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 to Saturday, May 16, 2015. Final performances: Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm and 8pm.

Tickets may be purchased online here: