Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2009

In 2006, when this production of Hamlet, directed by Eleanor Holdridge and starring Jason Asprey with his real-life mother Tina Packer as Gertrude and his real-life step-father Dennis Krausnick as Polonius, was first presented at Shakespeare & Company, I was the only Berkshire area critic who gave it a positive review. I was beginning to doubt my sanity until someone pointed out to me that Ben Brantley's review in the New York Times shared my opinion, after which I breathed a huge sigh of relief. [Note: Elyse Sommer of CurtainUp has brought it to my attention that she gave the 2006 production a positive review too. You can read both her 2006 and 2009 opinions HERE.]

In 2009 I was one of a mere handful of critics at the press opening performance. Hmmm...

Seeing it again last night, I liked it less, but I find that is usually the way when I revisit a production, even one, like this, that I have been very enthusiastic about before. Possibly some energy has gone out of it – this production has been almost continually on tour in the intervening years – but most likely it is the “Been There, Seen That” syndrome. We pathetic humans crave novelty.

This begs the question of whether “reruns” of which Shakespeare & Company is mounting four this season, are in reality the sure-fire money-makers they might appear to be on paper.

So I refer you to my 2006 review, in which I wrote lucidly about what makes this production special – the pared down cast and script, the lack of Oedipal overtones in Hamlet’s relationship to his mother, the highly stylized production that uses minimal color in costumes and lighting, the virtual absence of a set.

I also refer you to my friend Larry Murray’s excellent interview with Holdridge about what has changed in the ensuing three years.

The core cast – Asprey as Hamlet, Packer as Gertrude, Krausnick as Polonius, Nigel Gore as Claudius, and Elizabeth Raetz as Ophelia – remain the same. I still find Packer’s Gertrude too wimpy and girlish for my taste, and I still adore Raetz’ Ophelia. My 2006 remarks about this becoming The Tragedy of Ophelia still hold true.

The rest of the cast has all been replaced over the years, three joining the company just for this summer’s run. Johnnie Lee Davenport is a seamless switch for John Windsor-Cunningham in the roles of the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, the Player King, and the Gravedigger, a combination that still works well.

Stephen James Anderson is a feisty Laertes. There are two nuclear families in “Hamlet” and I really enjoyed any scenes in which Anderson, Raetz and Krausnick got to interact as siblings and parent.

Andrew Borthwick-Leslie (Guildenstern), Alexander Sovronsky (Rosencrantz), and Jake Waid (Horatio) are likeable as Hamlet’s school chums. This production does a good job of establishing that Hamlet does have friends – dorky clueless ones like R & G and loyal-to-the-death ones like Horatio.

The set design of Ed Check, costumes by Jessica Ford, and lighting my Les Dickert are all retained. I was far less bothered by Scott Killian soundscape and original compositions than I was in 2006 – either I have mellowed or someone took my advice and pared it down.

If you didn’t see this Hamlet in 2006, I encourage you to be informed by the energy of my earlier review and give it a visit. If you did see it then, there is no pressing reason to return, especially in a season when money is tight and ticket purchases must be made prudently.

Hamlet runs in repertory through August 28 in the Founders' Theatre at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. The show runs three hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 14 and up. For tickets and information call the box office at 413-637-3353.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009

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