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Action packed HAMLET at Irish Classical is short, intense, and rewarding

THE BASICS: HAMLET by William Shakespeare, edited and presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, directed by Kate LoConti Alcocer, runs through May 19, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 7:30, Sundays at 2 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street. Full-service bar (853-ICTC). Runtime: 3 hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder. Turns out the old man was killed not by some rando, but by his own brother, Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, who then went on to marry his sister-in-law, Hamlet’s mom, Gertrude, and so quickly, BTW, it seems that the snacks at her first husband’s funeral didn’t need a whole lot of re-heating to serve at the wedding. The young prince, back home on college break, is understandably both unhappy and confused; he contemplates life and death, but this production’s Hamlet isn’t all that “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” This kid is an action figure, a Marvel Avenger. Pretty soon his emotions are channeled into anger. The bumper sticker about the author of The Game of Thrones “Guns don’t kill people; George R.R. Martin kills people” works here if you substitute the name Shakespeare. Our clever college boy decides to feign madness to buy some time, during which he mistreats his mother (and stabs his girlfriend’s father in the process) then abuses said girlfriend Ophelia so badly that she drowns herself. (That was death #2, if you’re counting, but it sets up our third death plot.) Laertes wants to avenge both the wrongful deaths of his dad and his sister Ophelia, Hamlet wants his uncle dead to avenge his father, and Uncle Claudius would prefer that if anyone is going to shuffle off this mortal coil it should be the man in black – Hamlet. The play ends with a spectacular sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes, during which the King, Queen, Laertes, and Hamlet himself are all killed.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Just as the original title of this play, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” is often shortened to HAMLET, the original 4000-line, 4-hour production is often shortened. At the Irish Classical, they’ve trimmed it from 4 to 3 hours and have staged it in their theater-in-the-round so that there’s always something to hold your attention and there are no scene changes to slow things down. This is mentioned in a five-minute promotional video in which the play’s director, Kate LoConti Alcocer, discusses her vision. LoConti Alcocer has just been announced as the successor to the ICTC’s current Artistic Director, Vincent O’Neill, who points out that while HAMLET is his favorite play (not just of Shakespeare, but of all plays) this is the first time in the entire 30-year history of that theater that it’s been produced. So it would seem that he’s pretty proud of his protegée.

So how was the play? Worth the 30-years-wait? You bet. It was easy to follow, but with enough ambiguity to warrant plenty of post-play conversation. In my little circle some of the discussion topics were: Was Hamlet really insane or just faking it? Could you believe what he did to Ophelia? I thought Polonius was supposed to be a joke but here he seemed so…. normal? And what’s with the flute? And why the dance interlude? And all those two-by-fours and the step-ladder?

Without a doubt, Alcocer (lead image) is very exciting and fresh as a pretty sexy Hamlet, and in the fight scene at the end he’s matched perfectly with the equally agile Patrick Cameron as Laertes.

You’ll also be delighted by other top-notch performances that brought refreshing points of view. Laertes and Ophelia’s dad Polonius (and later the Bill Murray-esque gravedigger) was played with a whole new take by Chris Kelly. One theater-goer left an apt comment on ICTC’s Facebook page: “Chris Kelly (inset) is by far the most convincing Polonius that I’ve ever seen, either in the 8 plus film or TV versions of Hamlet, or in the half dozen or so live versions, including, sadly, the surprisingly disappointing version that we saw at the New Globe Theatre in London, last May, which the ICTC production easily surpassed in quality, on every level. Chris’s unique take on the gravedigger was inspired comedy of the highest level.” Well put.

Kristen Tripp Kelley (photo – below in white) was an inspired choice to play Gertrude. Because she can be so nuanced, Ms. Kelley is often cast as a woman with some agency while at the same time carrying a deep inner wound. That hurt is usually somehow connected with her character’s husband’s behavior as it was when she was brilliant as “Hannah” with the crazy/jealous husband in ICTC’s THE SEEDBED, or “Emily,” married to the lawyer whose career is in flames in DISGRACED at RLTP, or just hurt by men in general, as the long-suffering Elinor recently in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. In this shorter version of HAMLET, there’s no time for lengthy character development. You have to “bring it” from your opening line, and Ms. Kelley does.

Having just seen Anna Krempholtz as “Medusa” over at the New Phoenix Theatre’s MEDUSA UNDONE, playing a sweet girl completely overwhelmed by huge forces beyond her control, I was impressed in a similar way by a similar character, Ophelia.  Krempholtz can convey a wide range of emotions. And, she can play the flute. Who knew?

The music and sound selections by Tom Makar were, as usual, excellent, but sometimes a little loud, and while I appreciated the idea of putting a microphone on Rolando Gomez so that his “ghost” voice could be electronically processed to seem “other worldly,” it really obscured his famous speech.

Three hours is less than four hours, but if the length still intimidates you, don’t worry about that. All of the important scenes are included, and all of the famous soliloquies, but a lot of the back-and-forth dialogue which can become tedious has been removed. With this theater in the round production, you will be fully involved in the intrigue as you anticipate what comes next.

Photos by Gene Witkowski

UP NEXT: ENTERTAINING MR. SLOAN by Joe Orton runs June 7 – 30, 2019. “Themes of murder, nymphomania, and sadism bubble just below the surface of this scandalous black comedy.”.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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