Directed by Marco Barricelli, the show offers Danforth Comins as a wide-eyed Hamlet, disturbed by the death of his father, the quick remarriage of his mother to his uncle, a visit from his father’s ghost, and the charge of revenge laid upon him.
Comins is very physical in the role, continually moving, climbing the set, and using dramatic body language that make his character’s wonderful and well-known lines come to life and have new meaning.
His eyes are captivating, especially during his monologues, when one can’t help but be drawn into his distraught, churning mind. Audiences are pulled into his personal hell as he attempts confirm the story of treachery his father’s ghost has told him and tries to decide how to kill Claudius, his uncle, who has assumed the role of king.
“Hamlet” is a dark tale of murder, incest, revenge, and insanity. As in any good production of the play, the audience remains unsure whether the prince has gone entirely mad or whether he is tormented but sane.
Michael Bahr, Utah Shakespeare Festival education director, said in an audio orientation on the Utah Shakespeare Festival website that “Hamlet” is probably the greatest play of all time and other plays are measured against it because it is so deep and has so many layers that no matter how long and how deeply someone studies it, something new will resonate with them each time they see it.
The play poses a lot of questions about life, and is riddled with lines that have been quoted so many times they begin to lose their meaning, he said. However, in the USF’s production this fall season, the lines come across powerfully, as Comins and the other actors bring their characters and their emotions to life.
“Through this articulate soul, we are able to question our own existence,” Bahr said in the orientation.
“I know that you will enjoy, be touched by and come away thinking a lot about yourself when you see our production of Hamlet,” he added.
Other well-played roles include the treacherous Claudius (Phil Hubbard), the long-winded and fatherly councilor to the king Polonius (Max Robinson), Polonius’ son Laertes (Ben Jacoby), Hamlet’s boyhood “friends” Rosencrantz (George Walker) and Guildenstern (Chris Klopatek), Hamlet’s best friend Horatio (Andy Nagraj), and several others. William Sly gives us the voice of King Hamlet, whose ghost is heard but never seen.
Aside from the women in the ensemble, the only two female characters are Gertrude (festival favorite Kymberly Mellen) and Ophelia (Sara J. Griffin). The two women are outstanding.
We watch Mellen portray a queen who, when Hamlet confronts her in her chambers, shows authentic concern for her child and horror at his apparent madness and the accusations he makes. After the confrontation, we watch her fall apart as the play spirals to its tragic and inevitable conclusion.
Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter and Hamlet’s girlfriend, is broken after Hamlet’s rejection and her father’s death, and her eerie sing-song lines perfectly match her strange actions before her madness leads to her drowning in a brook.
The production is a more modern version of the play, and while Shakespeare’s words are used, overall, there are some changes here and there noticeable to those familiar with the script. The changes and the costuming add to the energy and complement Comins’ Hamlet.
One audience member remarked after the play Sept. 22 that the skirts where too short on Ophelia and Gertrude, and that Ophelia’s attire made her seem too young and childlike for comfort. Perhaps that is intentional, as it combines with other aspects of the play to impart a general feeling of unease appropriate to the subject matter.
Barricelli and the entire cast certainly earned the standing ovation they received at the end of the opening night performance Sept. 22 and most audience members seemed to walk away with nothing but praise.
“Hamlet” plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival until Oct. 27. Also running this fall are “Les Miserables” and “Stones in His Pockets.” More information is available at www.bard.org.