A career as a stage actor won’t make you a millionaire, but if you’re working with New York’s Bedlam Theatre it’ll definitely save you a gym membership. The amount of exercise that Artistic Director Eric Tucker wrings out of Bedlam’s Hamlet, alongside his three very talented (and equally hard-working) co-stars Andrus Nichols, Ted Lewis, and Tom O’Keefe, makes Shakespeare’s longest play — performed here with two intermissions — feel like a heart-pounding triathlon.
Hamlet plays in rotating repertory with Bedlam’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play Saint Joan at Olney Theatre Center, and it’s hard to imagine the amount of energy these four actors need to summon in order to do both three-hour plays back to back, sometimes on the same day.
But the endeavor pays off, and repeatedly, throughout this rollicking stripped-down staging, performed with only a small handful of costume pieces and scenic elements. Bedlam’s main goal here — to put the actor-audience relationship first, and to let the raw power of Shakespeare’s words do the work — delivers a fast and furious storytelling style, full of inventive uses of the space.
This is Hamlet willfully sprung from all foreseeable trappings of big budget and period design. Once all that ballast is tossed, what endures in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theater Lab — Olney’s black box space — is that dark storm of the story swirling underneath. Emotions are naked, passions run high, and the rough-and-tumble scenework from four hyperactive actors never slows.
Hamlet, confronted by his mother and uncle’s crimes by the ghost of his murdered father, takes an awfully long, tormented time to make up his mind how to act. But Tucker, who plays the prince and also directs both this and Saint Joan, isn’t a man of much equivocation. His high-octane, I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead style sucks all ponderous silence from between the lines and ramps up the feeling of chase. To quote a line from another of Shakespeare’s best: “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”
Closes October 20, 2013
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
3 hours with 2 intermission
Tickets: $48 – $55
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Watching these near-constant transformations of actors across characters is enough to make your brain swirl. And moments gallop past that are too kinetic to carry much real detail. But the troupe performs with precision, and the closeness of the space — they’re only a few feet away, after all — keeps us attentive.
Saint Joan and Hamlet both hear voices, and both are haunted by what comes of this access to the edges of reality. But it’d be hard to find two protagonists who differ more. Bedlam smartly gives the cooler, more reverent Saint Joan the dignity of a smoothly-paced, contemplative production. But Prince Hamlet’s notions of dignity prove caustic — something that this bruising, restless staging captures well. The company’s name belies their discipline and fine tuning, but Bedlam still isn’t afraid to act up a storm.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare . Directed by Eric Tucker . Featuring Andrus Nichols, Ted Lewis, Tom O’Keefe, and Eric Tucker . Produced by Bedlam Theatre . Presented by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Hunter Styles.