- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

For the manic, disaffected, youthful energy Jeffrey Carlson brings to the role of “Hamlet,” he could be starring in “Spring Awakening.” Director Michael Kahn’s production of Shakespeare’s introspective revenge tragedy shares with the newly minted Tony Award winner for best musical a certain wildness and the hormonal angst of misunderstood youth.

This is a green and gutsy production, with witty young touches such as Hamlet wooing the young Ophelia (Michelle Beck) via IPod downloads; the Player Queen’s (Maria Kelly) cell phone going off during rehearsal (the ring tone is “Sexual Healing”); and Rosencrantz (David L. Townsend) and Guildenstern (J. Clint Allen) geeking out like two bozos caught on YouTube.

Mr. Kahn stops shy of text-messaging Hamlet’s famous soliloquies, opting instead for an old-school approach, with Mr. Carlson’s delivery veering masterfully between petulant and sneering to a more caressing, cashmere tone as his inquiries into the nature of man deepen. Unlike the love-struck teens of “Spring Awakening,” Mr. Carlson’s Hamlet is not in love with love. He’s in love with death, in full Goth splendor as he communicates with the ghost of his murdered father (Ted van Griethuysen) and cavorts with an amiable gravedigger (Mr. van Griethuysen again) and the skull of his childhood jester. It is only near death that Hamlet is most alive, pumped and full of action.

Although in the fullest April of his life, Hamlet initially finds himself cruelly stuck, unable to do anything in the early scenes except mope and make snitty public scenes designed to rankle his mother and her new hubby, Claudius, who happens to be her dead husband’s brother. Although Mr. Carlson tends to overdo the tossing of his platinum tresses, he is magnetic as the moody, unpredictable Hamlet of the first act. He’s less convincing when he assumes the mantle of maturity — you are not sure whether he has gained pivotal self-awareness or the meds simply have kicked in.

Mindful that many in his audience may be of AARP age, Mr. Kahn gives us a King Claudius (the commanding Robert Cuccioli) and Queen Gertrude (Janet Zarish) who are two boomers trying their utmost to stay sexy and on top of things, hitting the sauce while maintaining gym-worthy hard bodies, a couple as cold and calculating as “The Soprano’s” Tony and Carmela. Mr. van Griethuysen conjures middle-aged magic of his own in his portrayal of the Gravedigger as a Texan good ole boy with some Willie Nelson flourishes thrown in here and there.

Walt Spangler’s sleek Asian infusion set — Japanese screens meet modular sofas and deco black lacquer — and Murell Horton’s palette of grays and verdigris for the costumes holds strong visual appeal for fans of contemporary design.

This is a “Hamlet” of moments rather than seamless power. Mr. Kahn brilliantly uses Kabuki puppets in the part where Hamlet contrives to reveal Claudius’ vile deeds through a dumb show, but when live actors perform the very same scene, the results are shrill and contrived. Visually, Ophelia is the picture of schoolgirl innocence and malleability, but her famous mad scene is overwrought and ill-conceived, an almost embarrassing display of histrionics.

Reckless impetuousness gives this “Hamlet” the caffeinated, enervated quality of a jag, but when it comes time for Hamlet to take action or for us to feel for Ophelia’s madness or Gertrude’s anguish, there is nothing but emptiness behind the buzz.

***

WHAT: “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

WHERE: Shakespeare Theatre Company at Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through July 29.

TICKETS: $19 to $76.25

PHONE: 202/547-1122

WEB SITE: www.ShakespeareTheatre.org

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