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Wineke review: APT's 'Hamlet' surprisingly funny, understandable

By William R. Wineke, Special to Channel 3000
Published On: Aug 27 2013 05:23:51 PM CDT
Bill Wineke

Over the decades, I have experienced a fair number of productions of “Hamlet,” but the current American Players Theatre rendition is the first one I’ve actually enjoyed.

“Hamlet” is, we all know, one of Shakespeare’s greatest hits and it is pretty hard to speak the English language without quoting one line or another from the tale of the indecisive Danish prince.

“To be or not to be; that is the question. . .” “The lady doth protest too much.” “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” “Murder most foul.” “To thine own self be true. . .” “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” And, of course, “Get thee to a nunnery!” It’s all there.

But, for me, the play has always seemed tedious, far too long and far too confusing. The role of Hamlet seems always to be played by a dramatic big shot who takes himself, or, at least, his character, far too seriously.

The APT production eschews that. Hamlet comes across not so much tortured as crazed. The supporting characters seem caught up in slapstick. The audience laughs as much as it gasps and the three and a half hour production pretty much flies along.

Briefly, this is the play: King Hamlet is dead, murdered by his brother, Claudius, who takes the throne and marries Hamlet’s widow, Gertrude. The play’s lead character, Hamlet Jr. (that’s not Shakespeare’s designation, but that’s how you keep the two apart), sees the ghost of his dad and determines he should revenge the murder.

In the meantime, Hamlet Jr. also falls in love with Ophelia, daughter of Polonius who, in turn, is a friend of Claudius.

In the end, everyone who is everyone, and a fair number of people who aren’t, end up dead.

It’s kind of an unrealistic plot, but then, who am I to second-guess Shakespeare?

Here’s what the APT production does well: First, the role of Hamlet is played by Matt Schwader, a seven-season APT veteran but not one of the company’s legendary actors like Jim DeVita or James Ridge.

DeVita does an exemplary job of playing King Claudius but, since we don’t know Schwader as well, we can concentrate on the Hamlet character and not the actor portraying him.

Second, Christina Panfilio makes a great Ophelia. She actually may be the most believable character in the cast.

Third, you just get the feeling that this somewhat slapstick rendition is probably pretty much the way Shakespeare staged it originally.

Having said all that, I have to admit that my wife, who usually likes things I don’t like, thought this production was too flippant.

So, pay your money and take your choice.

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