Ensemble Shakespeare gets it. Their latest production of Hamlet is a stark and raw endeavor that lays bare the language and emotion of the story. The adaptation by Brian White pares things down to the essentials while keeping the poetry of the original intact. You could hear the sighs of recognition in the audience as one after another popular expression or monologue was uttered, so much has the Bard’s language entered our vernacular. What was extraordinary was how the actors made sense of every word, enabling the audience to dive into the emotion of every moment.
Brian White gives a devastating performance as the grieving young prince who, in this iteration, devolves deeper into alcoholism as his despair grows. Jay Blair imbues Horatio, who narrates the story of his friend Hamlet, with a deep compassion and abiding love. Michael Fitzpatrick is a regal and ambitious Claudius, gaslighting everyone around him including the audience. Danielle Rayne is a queenly and resplendent Gertrude and Greg Ivan Smith is fantastic as Polonius as well as fine appearances as a sailor, the gravedigger and priest. Heather Schmidt is an effective, distraught Ophelia, an earnest Rosencrantz and a silly yet dutiful Osric and Jeremy Roberts completes the cast with a purposeful performance as Guildenstern and plays an impassioned Laertes.
The direction by Brian Elerding is taut, compact and intimate. Being seated as we were, as if we were all in a low lit bar watching this family drama unfold, gave the proceedings an intense immediacy. The pace was relentless and then, suddenly, there would be breath, in a thoughtful contemplation by White’s tormented Hamlet. The introduction of alcohol added another layer to really all the characters and made for a shattering final good night, sweet prince.
Hamlet is in it’s final weekend and there may still be tickets available, however, keep your eye on this dynamic theatre company as they continue to serve up Shakespeare in fresh and exciting ways.
Ensemble Shakespeare’s Hamlet runs at the Lineage Performing Arts Center on Saturdays and Sundays September 9 through September 24 at 7:30. Ticket prices range from $15-25, with discounts for students and seniors. $6 Parking is available in the Schoolhouse Parking Lot on the opposite corner from the theater at Green and Fair Oaks. For tickets & information visit www.ensembleshakes.org/tickets