Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hamlet next door

Say there's a castle next door, and the prince is a guy you hang out with. Except for his title, about which he has no pretensions, he's just an ordinary guy--though an unusually smart, sensitive, and witty one. He's a great listener, a great storyteller. He's never been attracted to guns, but he enjoys fencing--with words or rapiers.

Meet Hamlet, as played by Eric Tucker, who also directs, in what is the most unusual production of the play I've ever seen. This Hamlet, the second production of the new Bedlam company, is pulled from the chilly realm of Elsinore to your town, your neighborhood, your living room. You know these people, they're part of your world, and at any moment one of them might be sitting next to you, addressing you. With four actors playing more than two dozen parts, this is Hamlet boiled down to the bone.

Four actors: Tucker spends most of his time as Hamlet, but also keeps watch as the soldier Francisco and may be glimpsed as the ghost of his dead father. Edmund Lewis, as Polonius, takes off his glasses, transforming himself into his son Laertes, and amazingly both characters are vividly alive for us, in the same moment. Andrus Nichols works similar magic with Gertrude and Ophelia, and Tom O'Keefe with Claudius and Osric.

The moving set, with coordinates changing at each intermission, amounts to little more than a few chairs and, beginning with the graveyard scene, dirt scattered on the floor, beneath the actors' feet and close to yours.

That dirt--and the powerful flashlights that probe the darkness at the beginning of the play--helped convey its essence.

For me, watching this Hamlet was almost like seeing it for the first time--at the very least, hearing the words anew, and seeing images that will stay with me always.

In repertoire with Shaw's Saint Joan, Hamlet is playing through March 9 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street.

When you go: If the actors ask you to sit in a certain place, do it.

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