June 26, 2009 performance reviewed by Ed McDonnell
There are people who see Hamlet as a victim of paralysis, and have considered the play as a study of corruption, or as the standard for tragedy; they have been discouraged by their first experience of Shakespeare at the hands of a tenth grade teacher with no sense of rhythm.
The production of Hamlet, directed by Eleanor Holdridge and running through August 29th at the Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, MA, is new again, and may lead anyone who sees it to encourage their friends to give the Bard a second chance.
Holdridge’s direction presents a closer look inside the very brain of Hamlet; it is a consideration of the organism under the pressures of his human experience: betrayal, grief, hate, frustration, impotence, any one of them potentially is lethal.
Jason Asprey’s performance is relentlessly powerful, sustained in focus, and true to the director’s idea of a raw, over-stimulated organism
Everyone knows paralysis is central to this story. But for this Hamlet, and for this audience, it is not numbing. There is no drowning. He does not succumb to these forces. The audience stays with him because Jason Asprey’s performance is relentlessly powerful, sustained in focus, and true to the director’s idea of a raw, over-stimulated organism.
We can imagine the actor’s pupils hugely dilated with painful sparks of current running up his spinal cord. It also works in part, because, true to form, Shakespeare and Company’s approach is to carve away anything extraneous in the text, in movement, and trappings.
The overall stark imagery is supported by the use of sound: director Holdridge intended the grating metallic blasts which “cleave the general ear” at intervals to signal the neurological events in the prince’s brain.
This seems to work. Their effect is to generate an apprehension like that of being on a lake in a lightning storm or locked in a close space with a paranoid, or with a fourteen year old boy. It also scares some viewers out of their clothes momentarily, which only contributes to the feeling of involvement.
This Hamlet is not frozen but moves forward with each development. Here, too, nothing is extraneous, nothing is wasted. He is moving forward, but is thwarted and diverted again and again. The building frustration is, well, maddening.
Even some of the immortal speeches are thrown away or not exploited in this headlong angry drive to at least try to justify his life. (This is odd, because for Shakespeare and Company, the language, above all, has always been sacred.)
Pulling together the set of innovations and the general quality of the production are the prodigious talents on the stage.
Claudius (Nigel Gore) is a suave cobra with a nice smile. It has been said that Evil is not aware of itself, and this Claudius wears it well. He is bland as a poisoner should be, and the result is icy horror.
Tina Packer is Gertrude and her special awfulness is to be at ease in the presence of the monster and still to be all that a mother should be. And all of it a lie because her motives are filthy.
Asprey, as the runaway prince, feels like the friend, intoxicated, become a tornado, whom we wish we could embrace. But he is gone. Our friend is dead already, and it is for us, on autopsy, to search for flaws.