The state of Denmark is bare, although carpeted in a dirty red tomato. There is, naturally, a simple folding table, a signal to us that this classic play, one of Shakespeare’s greatest, has been directed by Sam Gold. He seems to love a good banquet-style catering table as a center piece. Besides the table and the standard convention room-style chairs, also in that same hue, the props are piled up in plain sight (scenic design by David Zinn), plastic cups and tin food containers. This is all reminiscent of the similarly designed and conceived style of Gold’s stark and atmospheric Othello at the NYTW with movie star, Daniel Craig, and the bareness of The Glass Menagerie starring Sally Field on Broadway. The lighting, designed here by Mark Barton, is simple and standard, filling the room as if we were here for a class, lecture, or an interactive presentation. Until it’s not. Then it all goes away, and we are plunged into a surprise as the first scene strips us of all preconceived notions. He is forcing us to see past the grandness of Shakespeare and the classic-ness of the epic play, and instead listen and lean into the words. Forcing our senses to heighten and above all, pay attention.
And it works. Our ears prick up, and we all tune in, wanting to catch every whisper and beautiful phrase, and there are many. We are cast into a decimated and grieving intimate world, where sadness is called madness, and revenge is complicated. It’s clearly a story we know, and the words are familiar to all. We forget just how many universally known catch-phrases come from this place, and each one rings true and is seen in the light (or lack there of) it was intended. But Gold has created something that draws us in and brings us close. It’s like we see something old through new eyes, and the intimacy created, makes us believe we can feel their breath and hear their sighs.
The cast is excellent guiding us through Shakespeare’s tragedy of betrayal and revenge. Oscar Isaac (film: “Inside Llewyn Davis“) illuminates Hamlet, the Danish Prince who struggles to understand himself and the task before him. He is consumed with confusion and dark rage as he mourns the death of his King and father, and the quick marriage of his mother, Gertrude, played wobbly by Charlayne Woodard (Public’s In the Blood) the weakest link on the stage, to his Uncle and now King, Claudius, portrayed with roguish strength by Richie Coster (Center Stage’s Macbeth). Isaac and Coster are rabid foes, intense and energetic. They both grab hold with both hands and run full speed into this famous and glorious text.