On Stage: To see or not to see, there is no question

The Lantern Theater Company’s production of ‘Hamlet’ reinvents the Shakespearean classic.

Rarely does an interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet throw me into a whirlwind of excitement. But somehow, the Lantern Theater Company has done so.

The new production, which runs until May 2, is enthralling in its originality and stays true to Shakespearean tradition. There are moments when the three-hour drama lags, but the ferocity of the acting keeps the audience afloat.

Hamlet is a classic that’s not always staged in a relevant and entertaining way. It is, after all, the story of a Danish prince whose uncle kills his father and marries his mother. And, of course, they all die.
I have a hard time relating to a 17th-century prince. But this new production has universal relevance.
The brilliance of this production is due to the work of two men, director and Lantern artistic director Charles McMahon and Geoff Sobelle, who plays Hamlet.

Sobelle’s performance is captivating – it is hard to look elsewhere when he takes the stage. His comic timing is a perfect counterbalance to the obviously tragic overtones of the play.

Geoff Sobelle and Joe Guzmán play Prince Hamlet and Cladius, respectively, in Hamlet, which plays at the Lantern Theater Company through May 2 (Courtesy Jeffrey Stockbridge).

Shakespeare presents a daunting task, requiring the actor to follow the text, understand it and deliver it so the audience will understand it, too. Sobelle, who comes from a background in experimental theater, tells the story well and translates it perfectly.

McMahon’s direction captures the relevance of the work, with a production that feels as raw as any modern piece. The thrust set, designed by Dirk Durossette, has some scaffolding and levels but not much more. It has an eerie warehouse feel but feels like a palace when it needs to. Costume designer Brian Strachan wisely created a world that mixes modern men’s suiting with the brocades of Shakespeare’s time.

Unfortunately, some supporting actors do not rise to the occasion. Melissa Dunphy’s frantic portrayal of the virginal Ophelia was distracting and desperate. The same can be said of Joe Guzmán, who played Claudius. He laboriously drags us through his portrayal of a poised and regal character.

In such a demanding show, meaning and purpose in every word are imperative and, in the case of Dunphy and Guzmán, lacking. On the other hand, the feverish and youthful performance of Dan Hodge (Horatio) and Dave Johnson (Rosencratz) feel honest and true to McMahon’s vision.

The one moment that defines this production is neither the cliché “to be or not to be” moment, nor the tragic ending. It is when Gertrude (Mary Martello), Hamlet’s mother, says Hamlet is as “mad as the wind and the sea when both contend who is the mightier.” The moment of betrayal in a family is at the heart of this triumphant production.

With new writers taking modern directions, it is easy to forget the works that have formed the way we look at entertainment. But sometimes, great artists take a chance and render classic pieces in a relevant, thought provoking and visionary way.

Max McCormack can be reached at edwin.mccormack@temple.edu.

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