Review: "Hamlet" from Odeum Theatre Company, Theatre Tulsa
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
10/30/12 at 6:15 AM
Let's start with "To be, or not to be."
This soliloquy is the most famous speech in the most famous play in the English language, maybe in all of theater. And typically it is played with the title character alone on stage, ruminating on suicide as an escape from the "sea of troubles" that is life.
As staged by director Whitson Hanna for the collaborative production by the Odeum Theatre Company and Theatre Tulsa, David A. Lawrence as Hamlet speaks these words directly to Samantha Woodruff's Ophelia.
It's a small shift from tradition, but it is perhaps the best example of the overall tone of this production of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and why it succeeds so well at aiming a few new shafts of light into the much-examined dark corners of this drama.
Much of this success is due to the truly exceptional performance Lawrence gives as Hamlet.
He handles the seismic shifts in the character's emotions - grief to rage to cunning to feigned madness to ruthlessness to resignation - with such subtlety that the audience is often as uncertain of Hamlet's true state of mind as are the other characters.
And that is really the point of this production. Hamlet is by necessity the smartest person in Elsinore, but Lawrence informs that intelligence with an awareness that every action he takes exacts a tremendous emotional toll. This is a Hamlet on a very human scale, one who can envision not only whatever trickery he needs to do to keep himself alive, but also the consequences of those actions.
That's why Hanna's staging of the "To be, or not be" speech works so well - Hamlet is someone who does not want to die, but he acts that way in an effort to drive the woman he loves away. When talk of suicide doesn't make her shirk away, then he brings up "the nunnery."
By comparison, the "O, that this too too solid flesh would melt" soliloquy Lawrence performs is a true cry from the heart, one so saturated with grief that it takes the specter of his dead father to goad him into any sort of action.
Even so, as Lawrence plays him, this is Hamlet whose tragedy results not from being unable "to make up his mind," as Laurence Olivier would have it, but from Hamlet's knowledge that vengeance and murder - even when thought to be necessary or just - will never set the world right.
Lawrence's performance sets a high standard, one that the rest of the core cast meets. Dale Sams' Claudius is one on whose head the crown rests most uneasily, whose tone of voice whenever Hamlet is in the room is a snarl of suspicion and fear. Ione Blocker gives Gertrude a sense of dignity and power - this is a survivor, rather than a victim.
Will Carpenter as Laertes is believable whether his character is happily joking with his family or enraged with grief and bloodlust. Andy Axewell's Polonius is not a doddering buffoon, just a statesman a little too fond of hearing himself talk. Woodruff as Ophelia goes quite gracefully mad, and Derick Snow is a stalwart, if underutilized, Horatio.
What also sets this production of "Hamlet" apart is its humor - the show seems to have about as many laughs as tragic twists of fate. And when the humor arises from the characters - the conversation between Laertes and Ophelia that turns to uncomfortable talk of romance, followed by their genial eye-rolling responses to Polonius' advice - it works well.
Other bits do not ring quite as true. The continued confusion of which one is Rosencrantz (Kara Staiger) and which one is Guildenstern (Jen Thomas) is cute the first few times. Staiger and Thomas playing these characters as clowns also undercuts their effectiveness - they're never presented as potential threats to Hamlet's life.
Devin Meadows designed the set - a collection of stairs and platforms that give the illusion of space in the relatively snug confines of the Tulsa PAC's Doenges Theatre; Lawrence also created the lighting design.
from Odeum Theater Company
and Theatre Tulsa
Performances: 8 p.m. Tuesday,
Thursday and Friday, and 2 and 8
p.m. Saturday. The Tuesday and
Saturday matinee performances
will feature the youth cast, with
Micah Weese in the title role.
For tickets: 918-596-7111,
Original Print Headline: Show gives 'Hamlet' new life
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Hamlet (played by David Lawrence) delivers the famous "To be, or not to be" speech to Ophelia (played by Samantha Woodruff), one of multiple shifts in tradition from Odeum Theatre Company's production of "Hamlet." MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World