Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hamlet (The SOB Review)

Hamlet (The SOB Review) - Broadhurst Theatre, New York, New York

*** (out of ****)

One of my life's little tragedies is that my ears have rarely been in sync with the Bard's old English.

Typically, I'm faced with either foregoing revivals or bucking up and trying my best to decipher what's being spoken on stage. Yet as a true theatre aficionado, how can I not take the latter path?

As it turns out, my fears in taking in Michael Grandage's revival of Hamlet were completely allayed and in retrospect unfounded. Given Grandage's expert and imaginative direction I've witnessed throughout every one of his productions from dark Russian drama to classic musicals, I shouldn't have been surprised that he could pull off another miracle.

Fortunately for audiences sharing my apprehension over seeing works by William Shakespeare because they're more often than not delivered on this side of the pond in a rather stultifying manner, this import from London's Donmar Warehouse is anything but. Thanks to Grandage, this play's the thing wherein I've finally caught the conscience of the king and then some!

High praise must be paid to the innovative Jude Law for making his Hamlet come alive. Rather than delivering Shakespeare's words as if they were part of some lost language, Law excels in cracking the code. He finds the depth and nuance redounding in every single word. Each syllable dances off his tongue sounding fresh and vibrant.

That's in part because Hamlet here is not so much the brooding Danish prince as he is a particularly circumspect one replete with boyish verve and playful vigor. It's a testament to Law's mastery that his impassioned soliloquy immediately prior to the oft-quoted one containing "To be or not to be" becomes the stand-out passage within this play.

While the brave choices he and Grandage have made may raise the eyebrows of purists, this revival sings, even if not everyone else in the cast can hold their notes quite as well or as long. No wonder shortly after I departed the Broadhurst, I tweeted half in jest that Jude Law stole the show.

But with Law's towering performance casting a long shadow over my quibbles with his Hamlet, this is one accessible production of Shakespeare's work that all are meant to see.

This is Steve Broadway (SOB).

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