Most people go to see Shakespeare because they are enthusiasts familiar with the plays or because they're new to Elizabethan drama and are hoping to learn what it's all about. In general, if you've seen Hamlet before, you're not going for the suspense of the ending. You're going because you love the story. If it's your first time, you'll want to find a good production that's not boring or confusing. Reduxion Theater Company's Hamlet is that production. In about two and a half hours, it brings you the tragedy of the Dane in a way that's simple to follow. Characters are easily distinguishable from one another (even when actors take on multiple roles), and each character's purpose—whether uncle, guard, or gravedigger—is quickly established. Best of all, this Hamlet is refreshingly vital, performed with such energy and flavor that seeing it felt like watching a swashbuckling adventure story.
In his program notes, director Tyler Woods says that his Hamlet "viscerally challenges" the current state of affairs in Denmark and "boldly confronts" his uncle. Neither phrase is traditionally associated with a character best known for speeches on indecision. But Woods makes good on these assertions and delivers a Hamlet who, once he possesses evidence of his father's murder, embarks on a calculated and definitive plan of revenge. This Hamlet isn't weak and doesn't dither.
Credit for the visceral performance must also go to Richard Bolster as Hamlet. His merging of grief and youthful enthusiasm created a vengeful hotheadedness that was tempered only by Hamlet's willingness to bide his time. This was especially apparent with oaths: every "fie!" and " 'sblood!" sounded like an aggravated curse and not a melancholy sigh.
If Hamlet was visceral and bold, then Ophelia (Erin Anderson) was bursting with radiance and vitality. Never meek, never pale, never shy or retiring, Ophelia seemed more country maid than tragic waif. This was a wonderful decision by Woods and Anderson, because finally we see a woman whom Hamlet—especially this one—would want to love. Even when she's in the throes of madness, we recognize a shadow of her former robustness; her decline becomes even sadder because so much has been lost.
Much of the new life infused into this production came from trimming some extraneous, unspoken stage business. For example, during the duel in the last act, Hamlet and Laertes (Sean Logan) started their fight strong and finished quickly, instead of struggling through several rounds of tentative thrusting and dodging of swords. Overall, each scene was paced quickly, and lines were rapidly spoken. There was never time for a point to be belabored or for a scene to become tedious.
The downside to all this energy and action was that the play was no longer an exploration of the text but simply a representation of the story. This is an acceptable and valid interpretation, and one that made for an enjoyable evening. But sometimes I missed hearing Shakespeare's poetry spoken with deliberate grace and relish. The rapid pace also meant that several actors rushed their lines to the point where they were difficult to understand.
The cast contained only seven members, meaning that everyone but Hamlet and Gertrude (Samantha Turvill) took on multiple roles. All did a fine job; Michael Cherry best morphed from one character to another with the subtlest of physical transformations. It also helped that Stephanie Shaw's costumes, all made in beautiful colors and rich fabrics, allowed for quick changes and easy visual differentiation.
While not a flawless production, Reduxion Theater Company's Hamlet was immensely entertaining. A company in its inaugural season, it tackled one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies in a manner more stimulating than many longer-established companies would have dared.