Jeremy Bobb and Stephen Pilkington. Photo by Thomas George.
BOTTOM LINE: Jeremy Bobb gives a fresh, energetic and masterful performance, within a clean and solid, if not inspired, production of Hamlet at the Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Hamlet is a rather good play by William Shakespeare that you may have heard of. Contained within the play of Hamlet is the role of Hamlet, which is a rather good role, as you also may have heard. Many actors, and quite likely plenty of actresses, dream of playing Hamlet some day. In fact, many actors would give their eye-teeth, their left kidney, and their first-born to play Hamlet. Some would even travel to Brooklyn for their chance. Thus it should come as not such a big surprise that an experienced Broadway actor is currently gracing the stage of Brooklyn's own Gallery Players in the title role of this rather good play.
I do not mean to imply that the Gallery Players, Brooklyn's longest-running professional theater, which mounts a full season of straight plays and musicals every year, is not a worthy operation. It is. But it is also in Brooklyn, in residential Brooklyn - in Park Slope, Brooklyn, better known for beautiful brownstones and aggressive stroller-pushing moms than theatrical excellence. The Gallery Players represents a distant outpost of theater far from the foment of activity in Manhattan and close-in Brooklyn. But there is value in visiting distant outposts; they provide new vistas and unexpected surprises, and, in this case, they provide you with some excellent Shakespeare, at least for the next two weeks.
In a limited run through August 1st only, Jeremy Bobb (Is He Dead? and Translations), plays Hamlet in a solid production directed by Taibi Magar. Bobb is an excellent Shakespearean actor and he takes obvious delight in the role which translated directly to enjoyment on the audience's part. Especially astounding are Hamlet's monologues, of which there are many. Bobb manages to make them naturalistic and completely understandable to contemporary ears, while also working the poetry of the lines. He plays with rhythm and emphasis in ways that are fresh, surprising and illuminating - truly masterful stuff. Bobb brings an energy and drive to Hamlet that is engaging, but at certain moments in the play, seems to contradict the text. There wasn't really a moment when I didn't believe this Hamlet would ever manage to seek his revenge. But overall, his impish, scornful characterization works.
Bobb is supported by an ensemble of actors who fulfill the demands of the play capably if a little ploddingly. I would have loved to have seen more character work and a clearer point of view brought to each character by the supporting actors. An exception to this is Oliver Conant, who plays a spot-on and very fun to watch Polonuis, and who also has a stand-out scene as the gravedigger.
The production itself is clean and clear, if again, a little bland. In a way, however, the simple understated performances, black and white costumes and dark, muted stage, allow Bobb's Hamlet to shine all the more. This Hamlet seemed to me to be almost a one-man show, rather than a truly ensemble work. And that is okay, because the main man is so good.
One major external flaw in the evening was a lack of A/C in the theater. I hate to say it, because I don't want to drive audiences away from the show, which is absolutely worth seeing, but for some people this could be a health risk. If the weather cools, this shouldn't be a factor, but during a heat wave, it demands real dedication to concentrate on Shakespeare for three hours in a warm room.
If you don't mind the heat, Brooklynites don't need to bother to go to Manhattan to see excellent Shakespeare this summer. And Manhattanites, you might consider making a trip out to the Slope to see this production; a capable actor has gone out of his way to play a dream role, and if you're smart, you will go out of the way to see his performance.
(Hamlet plays through August 1st, 2010. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3pm. There will be two special weekday performances: Monday, July 26th at 7:30pm (pay what you can) and Wednesday, July 28th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $14 for Seniors and Children 12 and under. Individual tickets can be purchased by calling Theater Mania at 212.352.3101, or online at www.galleryplayers.com.)