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Off Broadway

St. Ann’s Warehouse/Gate’s Intense Hamlet Cloaked in Death and Pain

St. Ann’s Warehouse/Gate’s Intense Hamlet Cloaked in Death and Pain

The ensemble (Ruth Negga in the green chair). Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Moving in like a heavy ghost, the dark red wood of the grand hall vibrates with an intensity of claustrophobic dread.  Seeping in through the smoke of incense burning strongly, the chanting ritual of Shakespeare’s Hamlet arrives with power and startling clarity, courtesy of the Gate Theatre Dublin, to the equally grand hall of St. Ann’s Warehouse.  A silent scream of pain and mourning chimes in demanding the textual apparition/illusion that is more than fantasy to stay and devastate our hearts with this famously clear portrait of indecision and funerial heartbreak. This is a grieving Hamlet of deep passion and angry momentum, embodied in every twitch and twisted snarl by the magnificent Ruth Negga (Old Vic’s Playboy of the Western World), who was so achingly beautiful in the tender film, “Loving“. This wildly talented Ethiopian/Irish acting presence gives blood and guts to the young son of a dead King (Steve Hartland) with such clear crushing pain. And as the chandeliers descend and the armchair of power is pushed into place, this magnificent production radiates a knowledge of the text that elevates an understanding and deepens the love for The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Ruth Negga with Steve Hartland behind the curtain. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

It’s the longest of Shakespeare’s play, with 30,557 indispensable and memorable words (and phrases). Clocking in at three and half hours (with one intermission), the time flies with that ‘edge of your seat’ energy, even as we sit knowing the murderous scandals that lie ahead. Directed with a precise understanding of cold blooded “murder most foul“, director Yaël Farber (Signature’s Boesman and Lena) draws us into the cloak of death that sits squarely and most assuredly in the dark-circled eyes of those hoovering watchers, players, gravediggers and undertakers of this mission, embodied by Will Irvine (MAC’s Abigail’s Party), Gerard Kelly  (Everyman’s Evening Train), Gerard Walsh (Gate’s Waiting for Godot). They see all and wait patiently for the outcome of the hesitating yet calculated revenge plot, spilling the dirt from the earth wide, while pulling in all the desirous reasoning of Hamlet’s passion and pain. No one remains clean, not the hardened stern mother and Queen Gertrude, played impressively strong by Fiona Bell (Abbey’s Three Sisters), nor the loving and grief stricken figure of Laertes, played passionately by the striking Gavin Drea (Gate’s Tribes), son of Chief Counsellor Polonius, most wisely played foolish by the wonderful Nick Dunning (West End’s The Home Place).

Ruth Negga, Fiona Bell. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

But the twisted dark heart of the matter lays at the feet of the devious uncle and now King, Claudius, played wickedly regale by the powerful Owen Roe (Gate’s The Father). He has seeped into power like the demanding light from behind the many closed doors, shoving most forcibly Hamlet’s father into the grave, and proclaiming him to haunt from beyond and behind the ghostly white curtain. He devilishly engages all around him with his greedy false touch, turning Hamlet’s friends; Rosencrantz (Barry McKiernan) and Guildenstern (Shane O’Reilly), into spying enemies, but isn’t able to reach the good hearted Horatio, beautifully embodied by the handsome and valiant Mark Huberman (Druid’s Shelter).

Owen Roe. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Standing alongside watching and waiting is the young Ophelia, the nervous Irish “green girl” dutifully adorned, played most delicately by the powerfully wise Aoife Duffin (Young Vic’s Blood Wedding). Drenched in need and desperation to understand her Hamlet, the two entwined actors fill in the spaces of the unknown and the unclear with startling precision. I’m forever perplexed by Hamlet’s overheard demolishing of Ophelia’s sense of self in the library, but it resonates in Negg’s delivery. It never really becoming maddingly clear as to the reason for this highly fraught entanglement, but it certainly is the fateful push that sends her to that watery edge of sanity and reason. She’s forever surrounded with players that are leading her to her grave, and although the walk through the rain seems excessive, as it is only used once and for such a short time, the drenching goes deep below the skin’s surface, and fills her heart heavily, like stones in her Virginia Woolf pockets.

Aoife Duffin, Gavin Drea . Photo by Teddy Wolff.

As the undertakers dutifully, and most brilliantly inventive, teach her the tune of insanity, the unpacking of my heart with her words surrounds us.  Carrying the Irish brogue proudly, the cast as a whole gives the square space, beautifully crafted by Susan Hilferty (Broadway’s Wicked), an elusive strength. It’s tense with dignity, accentuated majestically with dynamic backlit shadows cascading in from the many door frames by lighting designer John Torres (Public’s A Bright Room Called Day) and highlighted by the compelling work of composer and sound designer Tom Lane (Abbey’s Twelfth Night). This Dublin infused Hamlet rises above almost all others with it’s visual scope and devastating descent into the emotional words and the detailed text. With our mourning state of loss “easier played than a pipe“, this Hamlet cannot be played nor thought of as anything but severely impressive and utterly brilliant. It shines it’s wise and sideways light on the heart of the matter, and succeeds like no other. Go see it, if you can.

Ruth Negga in the Gate Theatre Dublin‘s Hamlet by William Shakespeare, presented by St. Ann’s Warehouse. Directed by Yaël Farber. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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