Michael Donald Edwards’ brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare’s familiar “Hamlet” succeeds at sparking an almost edge-of-your-seat renewal of appreciation of the Bard’s genius. Without the barrier of iambic pentameter and archaic grammar, familiar phrases leap out in surprising ambush. Shakespeare’s lyricism and microscopically introspective speech flash like jewels strewn unexpectedly on a velvety smooth, highly accessible plotline. Edwards’ direction creates an immediacy that leaves no room for coughing, shifting in one’s seat or mumbling, “Alas, poor Yorick,” under one’s breath.
Set in fin de siecle, 1900s Cuba, the story of a son’s revenge of the death of his father is especially apt for the Spanish culture. Beyond that, the choice of a Cuban setting has no particular relevance to the play and is represented by lovely Latin music, composed by Fabian Obispo, enjoyable period costume design by Clint Ramos and an ingenious set design incorporating dramatic, huge industrial-looking fans high in the rustic backdrop. The lighting design by Anthony Pearson, specifically the long rows of large cam lights, struck a false over-the-top note for me when used to dramatize unfolding events.
Frankie J. Alvarez is astonishing as Hamlet. His portrayal is a dynamic infusion of mime, jest, grief, confusion and physical contortion into the body of an overwrought, intellectual teenager. When engaged in dialogue with other actors, he is so utterly convincing and riveting in his inflection and manner that I found it hard to take my eyes off him. The soliloquies, however, seemed disconnected from the rest of his performance. He appeared uncomfortable, and it made me feel that he’d be better off directing the soliloquies to the audience, as in the traditional Shakespearean “aside.”
Out of a stellar cast, Mercedes Herrero, as Gertrude; Andhy Mendez, as Laertes; Gisela Chipe, as Ophelia; Luke Bartholomew, as Horatio; and Jake Staley and Jon-Michael Miller, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, stand out admirably. In dual roles, Douglas Jones shines as he embodies both a loving father and a people-pleasing facilitator as Polonius and a sardonic, salt-of-the-earth, commentator on life as the Gravedigger.
IF YOU GO
“Hamlet, Prince of Cuba” runs through May 6 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. Tickets are $28 to $74. Call 351-8000.
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