Theater Review: Powerful portrayals make Hamlet
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | February 25,2013
Queen Gertrude (Kerry Noonan) caresses her son Hamlet (Jordan Gullikson) in the Champlain Theatre production of “Hamlet.”
BURLINGTON — Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is in many ways as much about theater as it is about people. Not only are actors playing roles on stage, those characters are playing roles as well, as Joanne Farrell pointed out in her program notes for the Champlain Theatre production.
On Saturday, the Champlain College-based theater completed a two-weekend run of “Hamlet” at the Burlington school’s Alumni Hall, directed by Farrell, that featured professional actors and faculty members as well as a few students. The closing performance, unusually attended by a large number of Burlington area theater professionals, proved both flawed and powerful.
“Hamlet,” one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most familiar tragedies, tells of Prince Hamlet, who returns home to Denmark upon the death of his father, King Hamlet, only to find his mother, Gertrude, married to his uncle, now King Claudius.
Through the ghost of his father and some cooperative actors, Hamlet proves to himself that Claudius indeed murdered his father. Feigning madness for time and advantage, Hamlet seeks justice and revenge. Before all is told, nearly everyone is destroyed — even Hamlet’s beloved Ophelia.
What gives “Hamlet” its great dramatic power is the authenticity and humanness of its characters. All are severely flawed human beings, save perhaps Ophelia. Even Hamlet can be blamed for driving Ophelia to suicide.
Throughout, the drama and intrigue are accomplished through artifice: theater. In addition to Hamlet’s “madness,” Claudius feigns innocence and love for his stepson to Gertrude; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern feign friendship to Hamlet; and so on. Only Ophelia remains true.
Champlain Theatre’s often compelling production resulted from deft directing and some deeply rewarding performances. Jordan Gullikson was Hamlet. The Burlington-area professional not only delivered a performance that was natural, but he convincingly brought the audience through Hamlet’s emotional turmoil. There was no ham in this Hamlet.
Powerful and beautiful — as well as heart-wrenching — was Natalie Battistone’s Ophelia. Among the most poignant scenes were Hamlet’s rejection of Ophelia, and Ophelia’s later “mad scene.” These moments, without any overdoing, were about as emotion-filled as theater gets.
The production’s ham could be found in Eric Ronis’ portrayal of Polonius. The veteran and accomplished actor played Ophelia and Laertes’ father as a clown, and gay as well.
There are humorous and even witty moments in the script, but Ronis’ performance had the audience in stitches, even guffawing — seriously detracting from some very important moments in this tragedy.
Most of the performances were solid, though not always fully dimensional. Some of the less-experienced actors were either stiff or difficult to understand. (When will actors learn that they are incomprehensible when yelling, shrieking or moaning? And it kills any sense of drama.) Still, with Farrell’s expert direction, the story was told effectively.
The physical production, with a contemporary setting, was limited by the brightness of Alumni Hall, more of a lecture or concert hall. Still, the imaginative stage design (uncredited) and Eric Pearson’s lighting and ambient music went a long way in creating the appropriate atmosphere.
Hamlet’s tragedy was told with passion.