What is it that regularly brings us back to see what many consider to be the greatest play ever written? Hamlet, son of the slain King of Denmark with whom he shares a name, is the ultimate enigma of the theatre. Already distraught over the death of his father and the hurried remarriage of his mother when the play opens, the intelligent, loving, and princely young man is visited by his father's ghost, who tells him to revenge his death. The repercussions of this call from the grave on Hamlet's complex psyche reverberate throughout the rest of the tale and precipitate a number of key questions that must be answered by the actors and the director.

Photo of Tony Marble as Hamlet
Tony Marble as Hamlet
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
In the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production of Hamlet, director James M. Symons and his talented cast present a remarkably consistent and full portrait of the multifaceted tragic hero. The result is a detailed production of rare virtuosity that provides definitive insights on a number of key relationships and events.

Is Hamlet mad? Definitely not. Even when the ghost adds to his forlornness with a tale of murder, director Symons, actor Tony Marble, and the text make it clear that Hamlet must still test the claim against Claudius' behavior in the face of the most famous "play within the play" ever staged. Here, as an aside to the audience and directly to Horatio, Marble is at the very front of the stage to underscore his calculation.

Marble's performance ranks with the best of them, each of the prince's many moods given to its own subtleties. His scansion is relaxed, yet so luxuriant, even the most quoted passages are given fresh context. His Dylanesque appearance fits right in with the epigrammatic and unpredictable nature of so talented a youth.

Photo of Sarah Fallon as Ophelia and Tony Marble as Hamlet
Sarah Fallon as Ophelia
and Tony Marble as Hamlet
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Does Hamlet love Ophelia? Yes, as any infatuated young man would. But again, we only see their relationship after the murder and after the ghost. In the crucial scene, Hamlet follows through on his audience-shared insight that he must sever Ophelia's feelings for him so that she may better weather the storm he is sure will follow. Here, Symons has Hamlet sincerely attempt to explain his change of heart to Ophelia. It is only after Hamlet hears a noise (Thank you, Mr. Symons!), and realizes the two of them are being watched by Claudius and Polonius, that he loses his temper and unequivocally tells her to "get thee to a nunnery." Here, Marble and Sarah Fallon play the first half of the scene with the poignancy and tristesse that accompany the end of a beautiful courtship. This sets up the first of Ophelia's traumas, when Hamlet suddenly becomes enraged and hateful.

Is the lascivious element of Ophelia's later mad behavior properly forshadowed? Yes. Despite admonishments from both her brother, Laertes, and her father, Polonius, Fallon's Ophelia remains in love with love, and physically receptive in Hamlet's company. After her rejection by Hamlet, and after her father's death, Fallon is uninhibited, but not perverse. This is the portrait of an intelligent and hopeful, unrepressed young woman whose dreams have been shattered: a tragic heroine!

Is Polonius sufficiently full of himself? Yes. As any Oxfordian will tell you, Polonius is none other than William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's right hand man. Burghley was the playwright Edward de Vere's guardian after his parents died. Burghley steered de Vere into a difficult marriage with his daughter, Anne Cecil (Ophelia). All of Polonius' aphorisms ("Neither a borrower nor a lender be." "To thine own self be true." et al.) are lifted nearly verbatim from Burghley's own code. Originally, in the first quarto, the character of Polonius was called Corambus ("two-hearted" in Latin) a play on Burghley's motto, "One heart ..." Dennis R. Elkin's Polonius is pompous enough to underscore his self conceit, yet possessed of the opportunism required of someone in his office. De Vere would have so enjoyed slipping this Polonius the knife.

Is Claudius' antipathy toward Hamlet properly measured? Yes. Tony Molina's fratricidal usurper is polished and powerful. His concern for his brother's son appears genuine at first, revealing the cynical astuteness of a political professional. After Hamlet's melancholy over his father's death has been turned to thoughts of revenge, Molina's Claudius' pangs of conscience and alarm toward his young rival grow in carefully measured increments, shredding the usual shallow interpretation of this character and turning him into a tragic figure. Bravo!

Photo of Tony Marble as Hamlet and Hollis McCarthy as Gertrude
Tony Marble as Hamlet and
Hollis McCarthy as Gertrude
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Is Gertrude a clueless dupe? No. There are many arguments backed up by protocol and politics that argue for a quick marriage following her sovereign's death. It is only the ghost's revelation to Hamlet, and his allegiance to his father, that turns him against her. Hollis McCarthy's queen is keenly intelligent and frustrated with her son. She does not know her first husband has been murdered (she can't see the ghost), and yet, long before the final horrific scene, she refuses Claudius' hand and, later, becomes downright hostile towards him. Again, Symons' insightful direction and McCarthy's dignified performance create another fully-dimensional truly tragic character.

Photo of Geoffrey Kent as Laertes and Tony Marble as Hamlet
Geoffrey Kent as Laertes
and Tony Marble as Hamlet
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Is Laertes of sufficient depth to warrant him tragic status? Yes. Geoffrey Kent presents a confident and intelligent young man who is pleasantly tolerant of his father's pedantry, yet genuinely protective of his sister. When his father is slain, he is less calculating than Hamlet, yet composed enough to be misled by Claudius. In death's throes, when he realizes his mistake, he is man enough to admit it. Kent's expertise in fight choreography makes for a great duel in the final scene.

Set in a timeless Elsinore Castle, with a giant clock reflecting not only Hamlet's self-confessed mechanical calculations, but the machinations of fate itself, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet, directed by James M. Symons is the coup de maître of this year's offerings. It runs through August 17th in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, and Cymbeline in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre at the University of Colorado. 303-492-0554.

Bob Bows


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