"Hamlet," which is one of Shakespeare's longest plays, has been cut to three hours by the Actors Shakespeare Company.
This popular tragedy follows Prince Hamlet at Elsinore Castle. The audience meets Hamlet, played by Timur Kocak, while he is recovering from the death of his father. Meanwhile the whole court is celebrating the marriage of Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, played by Cindy Boyle, to the King's brother Claudius, played by Peter Galman.
Hamlet's father appears to him as a ghost, tells him that he was killed by Claudius, and orders Hamlet to avenge his death.
Hamlet's behavior becomes more unusual and worries the king and queen. The king's advisor Polonius believes that Hamlet is acting strange out of love for his daughter Ophelia. There are several unnecessary deaths while Hamlet tries to determine the best course of action.
In this production, there are many well-done scenes that even audiences not familiar with Shakespeare will enjoy.
The weight of this play rests on the able shoulders of Kocak, a London trained actor in the lead role of Hamlet, who is interesting to watch.
Particularly good are Boyle and Galman as the royal couple. Galman has a kingly voice and gives a sympathetic performance as King Claudius. Boyle shines in scenes with Kocak. As Gertrude she speaks volumes with body language.
Polonius, played by Gerald Kline, almost steals the show. Kline is fabulous in this role. On the night I was there, he got the most laughs from the audience. Kline is great in every scene and has a real connection with his daughter Ophelia (played by Jessica Myhr) and son Laertes.
The talented Myhr gives a moving performance as Ophelia, which is one of Shakespeare's least realized female characters. Her "mad" scene is excellent. She is able to convey the full range of her emotions easily to the audience.
The family has a very touching scene when Laertes (played by Colin Ryan) leaves for France. The tragic counterpoint is when Laertes returns to find his father dead and sister mad. Ryan has great stage presence and energy. The audience will identify with his need to revenge his father's death.
Also good are Rosincrance and Guildensterne (played by Paul Sugarman and Ed Roggenkamp), who bring a much needed comic element to this sad play.
The music, played by Anthony Bez, adds to the mood of the play and gives life to the world the company constructs.
The costumes by Eva Lachur Omeljaniuk are absolutely fantastic.
West Side Theater
This fall the Actors Shakespeare Company became the resident theater company at New Jersey City University. In 2004, The ASC approached New Jersey City University with the idea of a mentorship program for students plus two full productions a year and a "Bare Bard reading series."
After the test run, the school decided that the collaboration was successful and gave them the West Side Theater to use on a full-time basis. Acquiring the space was key for the troupe. So many companies don't last because they don't have a permanent stage for productions or they have to rely on good weather for outdoor shows.
The design of the theater works well for the company. The West Side Theater is called a black box theater because it has the audience on three sides of the space.
In Shakespeare's day the audience was a very important part of the play, with many lines (called an aside) told directly to them.
The ASC incorporates this principle into their productions, even keeping the audience section lit so the actors may interact with the audience members.
The company, which has been together for five years, only performs Shakespeare's plays. In Shakespeare's time there weren't any directors. The play was weaved together by the company of actors. In keeping with that spirit, the 12 actors in the play (called Lord Chamberlain's men) perform all of the roles in addition to some of the technical duties.
Bethany Reeves and Colette Rice are co-play masters of the production and served as coaches and coordinators for Hamlet. Yet all of the company members took turns at coaching throughout the rehearsal process.
The cast for Hamlet includes: Cindy Boyle as Gertrude; Peter Galman as Claudius; David Godbey as Horatio; Michael Hajek as the Ghost, Voltemand, and Player Lucianus; Rene Irwin as the Player Queen; Gerald Kline as Polonius, Norwegian Captain and English Ambassador; Timur Kocak as Hamlet; Jessica Myhr as Ophelia; Ed Roggenkamp as Guildensterne, and other roles; Colin Ryan as Laertes; Ron Sanborn as Marcellus, First Player and Gravedigger; and Paul Sugarman as Rosincrance, and other roles.
Production members include: Anthony Bez as composer and musician; Todd Butera as stage manager; Paul Hudson as lighting designer; Eva Lachur Omeljaniuk as costume designer; and Santo Sanabria as assistant stage manager.
The Actors Shakespeare Company performs Hamlet March 9 to 11 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, March 12 at 3 p.m.
The West Side Theater is located at 285 Westside Avenue. For ticket reservations, please call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.theatermania.com. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors and children. For information about the company visit: www.ascnj.org.