“Hamlet” A Wild And Unusual Ride At The Rep

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Michael James Reed as Claudius and Jim Poulos as Hamlet in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Less melancholy Dane and more merry prankster is how Hamlet’s madness comes across in the first time ever production of Shakespeare’s classic at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. It works beautifully despite the initial shock of schtick instead of wild-eyed crazy thanks to the talents of Jim Poulos as Hamlet and a strong supporting cast.

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Christopher Gerson as Horatio and Jim Poulos as Hamlet over a fallen Laertes in “Hamlet” at the Rep. Photo: Peter Wochniak

It all starts with a vision and Rep stalwart director, Paul Mason Barnes who has directed Shakespeare and others on the Rep stage including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the innovative New Orleans production of “The Comedy of Errors,” decided to make this “Hamlet” the story of an Everyman surrounded by characters from every walk of life. No distinctions carved in stone but a mix of traditional and nontraditional in both viewpoint and presentation.

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Jim Poulos as Hamlet with Ross Cowan and Stephen Hu as his buddies, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in “Hamlet” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

First- the cast. Jim Poulos is a most unusual Hamlet but one that works well and spreads less gloom and more madness than any interpretation we’ve ever seen. From doing bicycling type exercises to stalking and taunting and even mimicking those around him, he pulls it off with a great dose of angst and anger mixed in. Carrying on like that for the almost three hour production must be exhausting but what an incredible performance.

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Robyn Rodriguez as Queen Gertrude pleas with Jim Poulos as Hamlet in the Rep production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

As Claudius, the new king of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle and man behind the demise of Hamlet’s father, Michael James Reed turns in another brilliant character. He commands the stage even when Hamlet is chiding and rebuking him. The Queen- Hamlet’s mother- is a coy and somewhat confused but often befuddled Robynn Rodriquez. Her “showdown” with Hamlet is a gut-wrenching scene.

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Kim Wong as Ophelia talks to Larry Paulsen as her father, Polonius in “Hamlet” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Larry Paulsen gives an almost contemporary touch to Polonius. Like an addled Jim Anderson from “Father Knows Best,” he is concerned with his children- a delightful and powerful Kim Wong as Ophelia and a strong Carl Howell as Laertes- but is trying to sort out his fealty to Claudius while watching the slow decline into madness by Hamlet.

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Alas, poor Yorick with Jim Poulson as Hamlet in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Christopher Gerson is a more sedate Horatio while our friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are handled well by Ross Cowan and Stephen Hu. The stern and pompous Fortinbras is given a more traditional touch by Jeffrey Cummings. A superb ensemble highlights the proceedings including the various soldiers, servants, handmaidens, gravediggers and, of course, the wonderful “players” who produce the play with added touches by Hamlet to trip up the usurper king.

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Jim Poulos as Hamlet and Carl Howell as Laertes with Ben Nordstrom in the background fence with tragic results in “Hamlet” at the Rep. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The design team continues the vision of director Barnes with the eclectic costumes from Dorothy Marshall Englis that span the eras to help make this “Everyman” concept work within the parameters of this production. The spare but impressive set design by Michael Ganio opens the play to provide several acting areas but letting the words of Shakespeare dominate the proceedings. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz’s lights provide the proper mood as does the Barry G. Funderburg effective sound design. A special nod to fight director Paul Dennhardt as director Paul Mason Barnes has broken with tradition again bringing a “mask and vest” sword fight with points until the final, tragic moment and then choosing a more sweeping method of dealing with the (spoiler alert) deaths at play’s end.

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“The play’s the thing…” as the ensemble watch a “recreation” of the death of Hamlet’s father in the Rep production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Trimmed to a more comfortable two acts featuring about an hour and a half or so each, the Rep’s “Hamlet” is an entertaining ride that will surprise you with a feel like no other production you’ve seen. The tragedy is still there but the spirit of the play has taken a sharp turn providing lighter moments and unusual staging. “Hamlet” plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

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