Coleridge said that watching Edmund Kean act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning. That’s sort of the effect that Ashley Carr’s condensation of “Hamlet” has at California Repertory Theatre.
What Maurice Evans referred to as “the entirety Hamlet” was five hours long and answered all of the questions critics and scholars have posed ever since the play first was cut. But commerciality insists on brevity, even at the expense of richness and emotional depth.
At less than half the original length, director Carr’s production doesn’t have time to get very far into psychological territory, but does capture the play’s dramatic highlights and makes full use of its theatrical possibilities.
This is a visually impressive production that spreads its action up and down and across scenic designer Lisa Hashimoto’s moody, formidable and craggy ramparts, that clothes itself in authentic late medieval garments in Sean McMullen’s costume design, and weaves in and out of the chiaroscuro lighting by Norma Garza to the deep throbbing of Mark Abel’s sound.
Carr knows that the abbreviated text depends on movement and color to keep it alive, and infuses his staging with both. It is an absorbing if not particularly spellbinding production, proving that Shakespeare’s sense of barn-burning melodrama always informed his drama.
The performances have been shaped to fit the boundaries imposed by the cutting. Armando Jose Duran’s Hamlet, despite a lack of vocal energy in his quiet moments, can be volatile, with a slow-burning fuse hidden behind an inventive and rewarding sense of humor. Gregory Wagrowski’s Horatio is calm intelligence throughout, a solid sounding board for Hamlet’s unrest.
Gregory Mortensen as Claudius and K.C. Crowe as Gertrude are effective both as cheery newlyweds and as they become undone under Hamlet’s emotional assaults. Crowe particularly finds affecting moments of despair as Hamlet accosts her in the Queen’s closet.
At times Kimberly Seder’s Ophelia seems a bit contemporary, but she eventually settles into touching distraction as her madness engulfs her, and Blake Steury’s Laertes has an inner fire that gives his surface bravado a fine glow. The impish schoolmaster humor that Pete Regan gives Polonius works well, as does the comic bungling of Richard P. Gang’s Rosencrantz and Jeff Paul’s Guildenstern, and the silly rambling of Kenneth Gust’s youthful Gravedigger.
* “Hamlet,” Studio Theatre, Cal State Long Beach, 7th Street and West Campus Drive, Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinees Oct. 2 and 9 at 2. Ends Oct. 16. $15. (310) 985-2265. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Armando Jose Duran: Hamlet
Gregory Mortensen: Claudius
K.C. Crowe: Gertrude
Pete Regan: Polonius
Gregory Wagrowski: Horatio
Blake Steury: Laertes
Kimberly Seder: Ophelia
Richard P. Gang: Rosencrantz
Jeff Paul: Guildenstern
Kenneth Gust: Gravedigger
A California Repertory Company production of the tragedy by William Shakespeare, directed by Ashley Carr. Scenic designer: Lisa Hashimoto. Costumes: Sean McMullen. Lighting: Norma Garza. Sound: Mark Abel. Fight choreography: Gregory Mortensen. Stage manager: Maya Edwards.