Many people have attempted adaptations of Hamlet. And so has Mel Gibson. Anytime it happens, there is always the problem of how to faithfully depict Shakespeare’s masterpiece without going too far. Why break it if you can’t fix it?
Fortunately for me and for all of the others who braved the heat on Sunday night at The Shop, director Carl Brandt Long can fix things. Or should I say, re-fix things. Hamlet: Reframed was everything a Hamlet lover could ever want out of an adaptation. It is funny, sad, dramatic, and poetic, and with its visually shocking ending, it is also making a political statement.
Though barely seen for the first thirty minutes of the play, Sam Rabinovitz delivers a knockout performance as Hamlet, brilliantly capturing that “transformation” all of the other characters seem to be noticing in his character while he is absent from the stage early on. Hamlet is that role that every Shakespearean actor should dream of playing, and I am happy to report that Rabinovitz has made that dream a reality. He is never too mad, never too sad, and always reflecting that “ecstasy of love” Shakespeare established as this character’s memorable trait. You have to see it to believe it.
The rest of the cast was equally up to snuff. The scenes with Hamlet and Polonius (Jay Tilley) are golden, and while anyone who’s read or seen this play knows, Polonius has to go, it’s definitely a bittersweet moment. And fairly loud. The scenes with Ophelia (Kristin Rogers) are captivating, too. Just as Hamlet is appropriately mad here, Ophelia is appropriately naïve, definitely befuddled by Hamlet’s poetic madness but not so much that she ever comes off as ignorant, the way I’ve seen her portrayed before. Claudius (John Stange) and Gertrude (Sara Bickler) play their patriarch/matriarch roles very well, and the choice to cast Rosencrantz as a female (Kelsey Meiklejohn) was subtle and an example of what I imagine Mr. Long means with the word “reframed.”
Other examples I noticed of reframing included clever additions to the script—we get lines about “marketing” and a great scene where Polonius openly acknowledges the contradictions of theatrical generic classifications in Shakespeare’s time—as well as more obvious choices like Ophelia’s propensity for texting, which could have seemed disingenuous but was actually a very funny bit.
As mentioned, the venue was hot, but it definitely fit the production being staged. Imagine a fractional, miniscule version of the Globe Theatre in London, where all the action is concentrated on the middle of the room. I was initially annoyed by the noise coming from the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar just outside the venue, but eventually the centripetal forces of this play’s action made me ignore that.
My only gripe is that we don’t get to hear from the gravediggers in Act IV, who function in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the only non-elites we ever hear talking besides the players, who are being directed by the nobles anyway. This can surely be attributed to Mr. Long’s desire to keep the play at a reasonable length, and anyone who can cut Hamlet basically in half and still have something this great to show for it deserves no reprimands for the omissions he chose, which must have been a difficult process. This play reminds us, after all, that brevity is the soul of wit.
This was a tour de force, and it will suit people at all ends of the Hamlet spectrum, from experts to children that have never seen or even heard of a Shakespeare play. Quite an achievement.
Hamlet: Reframed has 3 more performances in The Shop – Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.