PROVIDENCE, RI – In 1997 at a theater called Alias Stage, Tony Estrella played Hamlet as a boy-man defined by revenge. Now, Alias Stage is renamed the Gamm Theater, with Estrella, as artistic director. And he's taking on Hamlet once again.
The first time we see the Prince of Denmark in this powerful "Hamlet" he makes his way onto a blood red stage at the Gamm as, . . . well, to me, he looked like Richard Nixon. Note the small, squinty eyes, the five o'clock shadow, the dark suit, the dark mind. He radiates a sense of foreboding. There's a desire, a need really, to do well, but a fear that he very well might not.
This possible Nixon persona soon fades and Estrella goes on to make his Prince a man filled with conviction and then the lack of it. The second time around, his Hamlet is no longer a young male driven by youth and rage but a man all too subtle for his own good. It's not that this Hamlet can't make up his mind; it's that his mind is too wide, too capacious, sees too many alternatives. In the end, when this Hamlet does allow his rage to surge you are proud of him, relieved that he has, finally, acted. He's found that he must be cruel to be kind.
It is a strong, powerful performance, a memorable Hamlet in a good production. one that sometimes may have you scratching your head a bit. But you will remember its convoluted drive, it's view that this world contains many paths, many pitfalls, some joys.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the Gamm's tiny performing space is that red, red setting. The dual leveled stage slants across the room. At its back, curtains become a movable wall. Hamlet is a huge play and designer Patrick Lynch has done his best to accommodate it. The costumes by Marilyn Salvatore are equally large distributed across the ages. Sometimes, performers are dressed in 1950s chic, wide skirts, bobbie socks, conservative suits. Then suddenly we see soldiers that could be from Franco's Spain, others are perhaps from some the Student Prince or maybe Lenin's Russia. Together, the set and costumes may be saying that Hamlet is a play for all seasons. Or maybe not?
In any case, there's little worry about in the acting. Director Fred Sullivan Jr. has all of his troupers on the same page. He given us people who are worried about the things they know, and the things they don't.
Steve Kidd is a forceful, nefarious King Claudius while Jeanine Kane brings quiet fear, and mother love, to Queen Gertrude. Kelby T. Akin makes Hamlet's eventual foe, Laertes, into a powerhouse.
As for the comedy end, it's hard to beat Tom Gleadow's goofily smart Gravedigger. And as Polonius, that great veteran Sam Babbitt is in a hilarious class all his own.
But in the end, "Hamlet" lives or dies with its Hamlet. Tony Estrella has given us a man both furious and hopeless; he's forceful and inept, a guy struggling to exist, to do the right thing in a world most definitely out of joint.
Want To Go?
"Hamlet" continues at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket though December 11th.
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