CAST of Hamlet: (Backrow L to R) Sean Spencer, Vanessa Cate, Jonica Patella, Philip Rodriguez, Natalie Winters (Front L to R) Frank Leone, Leif La Duke, Vsez, Maya Erskine, Rafael Goldstein, Sarah Fairfax, John Hope
Small theatre, small production, but a big bang of entertainment! Director Denise Devin took unarguably Shakespeare’s most popular play and gave it a fresh look in a small venue. Casting her characters with some of the most talented performers I have seen in a while.
For my love of the author's work, no performance of any of his productions could fail if you cast the talent to breathe life into those ever-so-well-known words: “To be or not to be…” This was a most calculated, intensely personal and quick witted performance by Rafael Goldstein as Hamlet. As having the burden and responsibility of the success or failure of the entire production, Rafael is right on the mark and does a haunting and outstanding performance at playing the troubled prince. He was clear and precise in his choices and it was always interesting to watch his subtleties and listen to his passionate soliloquies! He made Hamlet intelligent for me and as a result more real to his character's angst.
Limited were the stage and props but there was an abundance of talent to be seen in this production. Maya Erskine playing Ophelia was not only beautiful to watch but intensely real and emotional were her words. Memorable was her take on the insanity that overwhelms her character that you couldn’t move your eyes away from watching her performance.
Sarah Fairfax gave a passionate and energetic performance with the most expressive eyes regarding her interpretation of the mother, Gertrude. Both her and Maya take quite a beating from Rafael’s performing style and they both stayed right in sync with a level of energy and passion to match his. All three complemented the entire production working together.
As often as happens in such reviews, some of the lesser prominent characters/performers rarely get mentioned – not in this case. The part of one of the most chilling/creepy interpretations of Hamlet’s father the Ghost, one of the most hysterically timed theatrics of the Player King, and one of the most refreshing and witty interpretations of the Gravedigger, were all played by the same person, Jonica Patella. She gave the most spot-on, original and obviously committed performance of all three. Even when she said nothing, she said volumes! It was absolute magic to watch her and the honest delivery of Rafael together.
Some other sincere and honest attempts at characterization, although not as spot-on as the four mentioned above, were Claudius played by Vsev who seemed a little distracted with his lines but pulling through with a lot of passion. Polonius played by Leif La Duke seemed to rush himself a bit and in turn wasn’t creating his full characterization of Ophelia’s father.
And then there’s Horatio, played by Philip Rodriguez, who was a nice complement to Rafael’s Hamlet. Although a little rushed in his performance, he made a sincere attempt to keep up to Rafael as best he could. The same could also be said of Frank Leone’s interpretation of Laertes. A little more rushed in his performance as well, his best moments were when he spoke by himself with a more thought-filled tempo.
Director Devin, along with fight choreographer Douglas Johnson, chose some unique and clever ways to stage the end fight scene and made for a very dramatic ending for the cast in each of their respective death moments. Hamlet, the Queen, the King and Laertes all have passionate and believable’ farewells.
For me, there is nothing like seeing Shakespeare live and performed with a company of talented people. And this production, although small in scale, is large in the Shakespearean humor, wit and drama. If you like Shakespeare, you’ll love this production with this talented troupe!