What can make a much-known, often-seen classic like Hamlet worth visiting one more time? Certainly, hearing the poetic majesty of familiar lines and witnessing yet again the young Hamlet struggle with his questions of life and death can be compelling reasons. But added to that draw is seeing a production like Stanford’s where a talented, much-traveled director like Rob Melrose takes a young, mostly non-actor cast and shapes it into a riveting, close to word-and-action-perfect production. While maybe not Oregon Shakespeare or Stratford-on-Avon quality, this group of would-be thespians has been instructed and shaped in the past two months by Melrose into a troupe that most theatres would be proud to present. Every element of the staging and acting seems to have been the result of much study and discussion, resulting in a deep understanding of the Bard’s words, the historical context, and the power of living in the footsteps of one’s character.
Each of the members of this large cast brings unique and nuanced interpretations to their familiar characters. In the title role, Andre Walker Amarotico shows a wide range of all the emotions Shakespeare provides as possibilities in the words he gives Hamlet. Mr. Amarotico does so with brash aplomb and full command of his own stage and seems both larger than life and yet totally vulnerable. His moppy head, playful hops on stairs, and rides on banisters give him a boyish tone even as he turns a more and more sour, mad, and vengeful adult. Many kudos also go to other key players. Whether it is the mad, nightmarish rants of the crazed Ophelia (Jessica Waldman); the comical listing of fatherly admonishments by Tynan Challenor’s Polonius to his departing son Laertes; the high-society, stiff-necked airs of Kiki Bagger’s Queen Gerturde or her later anguished, guilty wails as she stands accused by her son of henious crimes, this cast generally rises well above its expected abilities on this university stage.
Where astounding direction comes particularly into play is the physicality of this production. These young actors slap with hands, pound with fists, fall flat face, and sword fight with such force and vigor that even those of us only a few yards away could hardly believe we were seeing only staged versions rather than real acts. The force of Shakespeare’s drama comes right at us as an audience through the audacity of action these actors bring to their parts. The winners are we who get to witness a young group of aspiring actors take on the Bard with surprising maturity.
Rating: 4 E’s