We gave the actors three curtain calls. That's how good this was.
I have so, so, sooooooo many things I want to say. And I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get to all of them. First off, the Blackfriars Playhouse is amazing in and of itself. It's a recreation of the Blackfriars Theater in London where Shakespeare's plays were performed when he was writing them. It's a small, intimate theater with gorgeous decor, wonderful acoustics (no microphones for the actors!), and a fun, playful vibe even for serious productions like Hamlet. It looks like this:
Anyway, they did the play in full-on Elizabethan costuming, which was cool. I've seen way more productions with non-Elizabethan costumes than with, so it was kind of a treat for me to see them actually wearing doublets and hose and so on. They had minimal props, just a chair or table now and then when needed, plus lots of nice, shiny daggers and swords, some flowers, a couple skulls, etc. And the staging was lively, energetic, and sometimes surprising in a good way, like having the Ghost make his final appearance from a trapdoor high above the stage! That was especially cool.
The acting was overall superb. I'm getting spoiled with amazing productions right now, what with the 2011 film I just reviewed and now this. Josh Innerst as Hamlet was especially wonderful, just the right mix of inscrutable and relate-able, passionate and cerebral, skeptical and credulous. Also, he did this very tiny little thing that pleased me to no end: throughout the bulk of the play, he had very messy hair and an unkempt goatee, like this:
But when he returns from his pirate escapade, his hair was combed, his mustache ends were twisted up, and he was altogether kempt and combed and calm. It was such a little touch, but so exactly the perfect way to physically show the alteration in the character from wild and whirling and uncertain to a man at peace with his fate and his role and his path. I LOVED that.
I also loved Benjamin Reed as Laertes. I am, as you may know, horrifyingly picky about how Laertes gets portrayed. Or, actually, I get horrified by the way he's usually played either as a jerk or as a non-entity. But if you play Laertes well, he becomes a truly powerful foil for Hamlet and a way for us to understand him from another angle. And this Laertes, oh my word, you couldn't help but love him. Devoted to his sister, obedient to his father... and a friend to Hamlet. My very most favorite moment in the entire production was at the very beginning when Laertes gets permission from Claudius to go back to France, and he says goodbye to the court... and gives Hamlet a farewell manly-man hug. It's brief, most people probably didn't even see it, but I wanted to just run up on stage and thank everyone in the production for that one tiny moment.
I am not even exaggerating when I say that this Laertes is my favorite since Liev Schreiber's in the 2000 film. The only one I've seen come close. I would go see this production again, if I could, just for him, even if every other actor and actress was out sick and the roles were filled with understudies.
Then there was Shunte Lofton as Ophelia. For much of the play, I was just okay with her. I thought she excelled in her scenes with Polonius and Laertes, but wasn't as fond of her in the nunnery bit. But then her mad scene, when she handed out flowers, actually moved me to tears. I can't remember the last time I was moved to tears by that scene. Maybe never. So she really wowed me there.
Let's see, the rest of the cast. Allie Babich as Horatio was quite good, very sympathetic and intelligent. It was neat seeing a woman in the role. Christopher Seiler was okay as Claudius, maybe a bit too smiling, but I was okay with him. Jessika Williams was likewise okay as Gertrude -- kind of frosty, but sympathetic. Tim Sailer was very fun as Polonius, not so much pompous as too loquacious. I didn't even realize until I read my program when I got home that he doubled as Fortinbras, so he did a great job being very different for both roles.
For the purposes of my Hamlet Comparisons page (which I'm going to revamp soon, just FYI), I would say:
Overall Production: A
Here's something superduper fun that I just love: they're doing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead right now too, and everyone in this production is also playing THE SAME ROLES IN THAT!!! I kind of just really want to go see RAGAD now, though I'm not sure I can make it happen, but that whole idea is just too perfect for words.
Okay, it's midnight, and although I will probably remember a zillion things to say as soon as I post this and go to bed... I've said lots. I adored this production. I will be seeing more plays at the ASC, you can count on that.
(I didn't have permission to use any of the photos in this post, I just stole them from the internet. If the ASC lawyers come after me, the first thing I'll do is... take down the pictures. What were you thinking?)