- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - The current off-Broadway revival of “Hamlet” is modern, streamlined and primarily black and white, but there is plenty of color, as always, in the centuries-old richness of Shakespeare’s words.

Christian Camargo acquits himself admirably as Hamlet, the young Danish prince whose dead father’s ghost tells tell him that he was killed by his own brother Claudius. Hamlet was already disgusted by the “wicked spectacle” of his mother so quickly marrying Claudius within two months of his father’s death. Now he must contend with his father’s desire for revenge and with the treachery of nearly everyone in his life.

Appropriately dark and broody, Camargo’s Hamlet is also appealing and vulnerable. Camargo smoothly shifts emotional gears to fit each situation, as Hamlet ricochets from despair to rage and back to melancholy, pretending madness while buffeted by personal betrayals, often lost in his own ruminations and epiphanies.

David Esbjornson’s direction conveys the subtle human flaws, passion and inconsistencies in all the characters, though some seem overly restrained. King Claudius (Casey Biggs) is almost a figurehead, only coming to life late in the play with his repentance speech. Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, played as an icy socialite by Alyssa Bresnahan, finally defrosts when confronted by her son in the bedroom scene.

Camargo gives way to occasional ranting that livens up the production. He seems overly forceful, rather than rueful, in the “get thee to a nunnery” speech, shouting violently at his former girlfriend, Ophelia (a sensitive portrayal by Jennifer Ikeda.) But for the most part, Camargo gives Hamlet undeniable weight and depth.

The supporting actors fit nicely into the whole. Alvin Epstein is a perfect Polonius, by turns the nosy, clownish courtier and then the wise father to his children, Ophelia and Laertes. Confused at her father’s instructions to spy on Hamlet, and upset by Hamlet’s harsh attitude, Ophelia goes completely mad after he accidentally kills her father. Ikeda delicately acts Ophelia’s mad scene, nicely staged atop and beneath the royal dining table.

Jonathan Fried is a genuinely sorrowful presence as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, while Tom Hammond (Horatio) exudes the sincerity necessary for his role as the only person Hamlet can truly trust. Graham Hamilton is good as an impetuous Laertes, shocked at the decimation of his family and easily manipulated by Claudius into murder.

A solid black set by Antje Ellerman, at times overlaid with projections of intersecting gray lines, is brightened only by Marcus Doshi’s moody lighting, a few bits of white furniture, and underlying eerie sound by Jane Shaw.

This “Hamlet” travels a twisting route through the heart of darkness, and almost nobody comes out the other side. It’s running at the Duke on 42nd Street through April 12.

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