The most important job that a director must do is to cast his/her play. If he/she casts well, then 90% or his/her job is done. And so Director, Douglas Campbell has doomed his production of "Hamlet" at the Bristol Riverside Theatre because he has miscast his leading actor. Lenny Haas possesses a whiny and at times grating voice, and because he does not imbue his Hamlet with any fire or passion, nor is able to animate the text, we are left to listen to his voice drone on in one long monologue after another. This does not a good Hamlet make. And yet this is not to say that Lenny Haas is completely without talent. Last season I saw his performance as the dresser in Bristol Riversideís, "The Dresser" and it was quite good. But when it comes to the Bard, Mr. Haas is out of his element.
And this is unfortunate, for surrounding Mr. Haas are some very good players. Most notably, Edward Keith Baker is excellent as Claudius the King. He has the voice and the bearing of a royal and we can understand every word he says. This is not only because his diction is distinct, but also because he understands the text. And Baker exudes a lusty proclivity for his Queen Gertrude that adds to his lascivious villainy. Penlope Reed is quite wonderful as the newly wed Gertrude making merry with her new husband king Jared Reed as the young Laertes is very good. His motives are direct and clear and he handles the language of the bard with ease. David Howey was powerful and versatile in his triple roles of Hamletís fatherís ghost, the Player King and the Gravedigger. Kenneth Boys is a sensitive and gentle souled Gildenstern, and though his role is not large, his presence onstage is always felt and appreciated.Vanessa Quijas overplays the role of Ophelia ñ imbuing her with such strength and force of character that we cannot believe that this girl goes mad for the loss of her love and her father. Strong women donít go mad, they cope and survive. Women who are overly vulnerable dance on the teacupís edge of insanity ñ Blanche DuBois, Laura, Ophelia. ñ delicate creatures who cannot bear the "slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune".
The set by Nels Anderson, a network of silver metal layers of platforms and stairs is excellent and quickly mobile. The Napoleonic era costumes by Lisa I. Zinni are partly successful. Some look appropriate, and some look too bedraggled to be worn by members of a Danish court. The original music and sound composition by Mr. Baker is very good and adds to the ambience of the production. The sword fight at the end of the play is very well choreographed and not predictable. The play itself moves at a pretty pace ñ but unfortunately, in this three and a half hour Elizabethan tragedy, the play is not "just" the thing.
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