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Noted classical stage director Jay Michaels joined forces with actor Matt de Rogatis to create a Dane that is very un-munDane. The pomp and flowery declamation is all gone. What is left is a dark journey of a troubled young man’s mind - and a really fascinating night in the theater. To drive his point home, Michaels injected bits of other “Hamlets” into the script, and while it would have been nice if they were displayed more, a clever ear can catch a few.
The implication of “melancholy” became an all-out exploration of the dark recesses of the mind - depression, perversion, borderline personalities, schizophrenia, and more.
The titular character as played by Matt de Rogatis brings Jay Michaels concept to life with vigor. Visibly panicked at the appearance of his dead father; punishing himself for inaction with whipping; mutilating his desire to die with cutting; and a perverted but engrossing relationship with Ophelia rarely seen in this play fills his portrayal. De Rogatis presented a troubled soul with innovation and great passion.
To that note, Lorraine Mattox played a powerful Ophelia, whose own madness seems to result from her attempt to wrest her life from her father, Polonius, and her lover, Hamlet. It made her own fall that much more poignant and her journey that much more interesting.
The three conspirators were a unique bunch. David Arthur Bachrach found a scheming Claudius filled with villainous gestures and methodical means. His “oh my offense is rank” soliloquy was a modernized touch of existentialism amid the gorgeous Shakespearean flourish, of which David is obviously a master. Jim Kempner’s Polonius was the polar opposite of what you’d expect of the character. Instead of the prattling sycophant, you get a smart, even cunning ambassador. His New Yorkish tone made us see a politician - the kind we know well. And exuding raw emotion comparable to de Rogatis was Brian Patrick Murphy as a swash-buckling Laertes. Murphy’s deep voice and powerful physical presence turned the gentlemanly sword fight in Act V into the final moment of truth it was supposed to be.
Two standouts are Linda S. Nelson, who provided a powerful Queen Gertrude, exuding love and care for her son in some very powerful moments - not the least of which was an enthralling closet scene and histrionic moment in the graveyard.
Another true standout within the production was Greg Pragel as Hamlet’s right hand, Horatio. Pragel portrayed Horatio as the eyes of the play, witnessing, watching, and notating. One gets the idea that this play was written by him. Pragel made Horatio the most engaging - and identifiable - character on the stage. His immense presence was placed in a sensitive portrayal serving as the polar opposite of de Rogatis’ on-the-sleeve emotion. The Hamlet/Horatio relationship sometimes hinted at more-than-friends but never distracting. His mastery of the language didn’t hurt either.
Standouts notwithstanding, the entire cast was a worthy watch: Milton Elliott’s Ghost of the Dead King galvanized the audience with his hellish suffering; R. J. Lamb made a pleasant addition as an academic charged with telling the tale (a new touch). While much of his dialogue was superfluous as it merely retold what was just seen or to be seen, he was an engaging - often humorous - personality that let the audience return to reality to digest each movement; Ali Stover & Vanessa Altshuler as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern landed on the stage as two of Hamlet’s friends-with-benefits, and while the choice to feminize the two school-fellows now made famous by Tom Stoppard, in a promiscuous way seemed an odd one, the pair supplied the show with needed levity and personified a level of Hamlet’s dark desires. Mario Claudio - a commanding paganesque presence - played a host of roles rolled into one and seemed to act as a mirror to the plays raw nature. Eileen Kennedy’s tarot-inspired artwork seemed natural in his hands.
Michaels kept the stage moving and ideas cleverly masked to be displayed when most potent. He moved his chess pieces brilliantly along a small claustrophobic space; Familiar fashion face, Maya Luz, created a series of outfits that winked at Penny Dreadful and Underworld in equal parts; Maryam Penelope Sweirki gave us swathes of color and waves of alternating light and dark emulating the mind of Hamlet and the emotional journey of the court; but bringing the emotion even further was the production’s original music provided by Mary Elizabeth Micari, who created a symphony of beats, sounds, waves, tones, and choral influence that forged a new dimension in living art; FX artist Shane Vannest’s disfigured Yorick marched hand-in-hand with Michaels’ production scheme creating the concept of the anguished “inside.”
There will be purists who will exit the theater at some of these new nuances but to the elevated and open-minded patron of the arts, this is a Hamlet to watch, discuss, and remember for a long time to come.
Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services. He and his partner of 27 years call New York home - even though they live in New Jersey.
NINE Theatricals Receives Rave
Reviews of It's NYC Hamlet Production
by Bob Greene
William Shakespeare has many “crowning achievements.” Lear, Richard III, Macbeth, even Romeo & Juliet earns that title, but the crown of the crowns is Hamlet. More versions have done the melancholy Dane more ways than any other Bardian opus - even a parody on Gillian’s Island. Nine Theatricals throws its plumbed hat in the ring with a daring adaptation complete with new characters and dialogue from other texts.
“Hamlet” has always been about a Prince locked in a permanent state of confusion. Is his uncle responsible for his father’s death or was he was visited by the devil? Is he mad or simply pretending? With a small stage and little else in terms of added bells and whistles director Jay Michaels is able to put together a production that at times marvels because it encompasses all of the things that make “Hamlet” special.
That has everything to do with the performances of de Rogatis as Hamlet and Lorraine Mattox as Ophelia. Emotionally charged and even deranged at times, both performers epitomize their characters and serve as a great first watch for someone who has never seen the play and for those who appreciate Shakespeare.
Speaking of accessibility, the role of the narrator, a first for the production, played by RJ Lamb, is able to keep newcomers interested and adds a noir element to the production. With an almost “Twilight Zone” feel at times, Lamb provides extra energy to already passionate cast.
The same can be said for the booming Brian Patrick Murphy (Laertes) who’s fire and ferocity simply pours out of him. Milton Elliot’s performance as the ghost is also a daring one as his screams alone will haunt you after the performance. While there aren’t any poor performances across the cast, de Rogatis, Murphy and Mattox stand out the most thanks to their energy.
Away from the passion of several performers, this version of “Hamlet” also thrives due to smart behind the curtain decisions. While the Steampunk costumes don’t do much in terms of adding to the drama or making this version much different, Mary Micari’s ambient tunes are chilling. It may be a small touch, but during many of de Rogatis’ more emotional scenes, they make you feel as if you’re the only person on stage with him. The decision to make Rosencrantz (Ali Stover) and Gildenstern (Vanessa Altahuler) female also adds a layer of sex appeal and grit to the production.
So while the smaller stage could be seen as a hindrance for a production with so much appeal and scope, Michaels and an excellent cast make lemonade in a production that in spite of its lack of real audacity, as it is much closer to traditional Shakespeare than expected, takes advantage of several small changes that make it palpable to a new audience and enjoyable to those who wish to enjoy the Bard’s work in a different setting.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
Editor-in-Chief, Founder at Review Fix
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com. He is currently a full-time Journalism and English Professor at Kingsborough Community College and a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media. He also teaches Multimedia Journalism at Brooklyn College and has had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and The Syracuse Post Standard. Love him. Read him.
Reviewed by Patrick Hickey Jr.
"Hamlet” has been done on every stage in the world, but Nine Theatricals’ version at the 13th Repertory Theatre puts a more modern spin on the action- adding a witty narrator and with a impressive performance by star Matt de Rogatis, it’s able to make itself memorable.