The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s current production of Hamlet is a marathon that tests the cast’s stamina in more ways than one. Hamlet is regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. It asks, what does it take for someone to break? Is revenge always necessary? If so, does it make you feel any better? Running through May 5 at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, this three-hour behemoth is a night of theater I’ll never regret.
Hamlet takes place when the Prince of Denmark (played by Lee Osorio) returns from school to mourn his father’s (Maurice Ralston) death. Not having succeeded his father, his mother, the queen (Olivia Dawson), marries his father’s brother, Claudius (Jeffrey Watkins). At midnight, Hamlet’s father appears to him in a ghostly body and demands revenge, which begins Hamlet’s mental unwinding.
Hamlet then goes to meet Ophelia (Shelli Delgado), and we begin to see the crack in the mask and his complete undoing. He overwhelms her in a verbal assault full of contradictions that ultimately leads to her unwinding in the same way. From there, the story snowballs and begins to affect everyone in the kingdom.
My favorite part of this production is the casting. I didn’t catch it until the second intermission, but it’s a show with a diverse cast that doesn’t have to brag or publicize its inclusivity. This group of actors shows that these classic tragedies are human stories, no matter what your gender, race or sexual identity.
On top of that, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company has assembled a strong cast. Because of Hamlet’s scene-to-scene pacing, it’s easy to get lost from one scene to another and to fully gauge the time in between some events. This production finds its footing early.
In its direction, it looks like Jaclyn Hofmann said, “Lee, run wild.” And he does exactly that.
The best part of Osorio’s Hamlet is that he doesn’t feel trapped within the show. He doesn’t spend all three acts brooding. He gives Hamlet moments to breathe, laugh and connect with his scene partners. He manages to capture Hamlet’s attempts at controlling everything around him and ultimately his mental deterioration. It’s the clearest and best depiction of Hamlet’s mental state I’ve ever seen. Simply put, this performance is EVERYTHING.
This Hamlet specifically toes the line of what I’d call a classic/contemporary balance. In the scenes, you see the big arms and mighty voices we associate with a Shakespeare play, but in the soliloquies, it’s very natural in the way he talks to himself and to the audience.
Shelli Delgado, like Osorio’s Hamlet, goes for it. Delgado doesn’t rush the audience into Ophelia’s breakdown, which is rare. Most actors come out fully amid their declination to show how far she’s gone, but they don’t realize they’re robbing the audience of that transition. Delgado finds a way to present raw emotions while also maintaining the innocent, demure presence the character is known to have.
In addition to the leads, Cory Phelps, who plays several ensemble roles, including one of the gravediggers, is one of the best parts of the show. His comedic instincts and timing are just flawless. He’s tapped into some 21st-century comedy while remaining true to the show’s classic sensibilities.
Every show has its snags, though, and with this production, it comes in playing the expected. Traditionally, when you think of bad Shakespeare, it’s pointless screaming, shaking and fainting. Particularly, Bridget McCarthy’s performance in the third act is almost jarring. In the first act, she steps onstage as Laertes and immediately charms the audience before being sent off. When Laertes returns in the third act, her performance arrives in a quieter stretch of the show and seems offbeat. Everyone else is in a heady, thought-forward lane, and she emerges from a pure, instinctual place. It’s true to the character, but her choices ring a little too loudly against this well-orchestrated symphony.
Nevertheless, this production is well-crafted and performed. And it’s truly an all-ages event. There are school groups, older people, young adults on dates — every group is there and anticipating a good show. It’s also great to see “traditional” costuming in a Shakespeare piece. Most productions in their modern interpretations are military dramas, but it’s nice to see Elizabethan costuming. To see the guns traded back in for swords and daggers is refreshing.