By Amy Onorato
“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s longest and more philosophical tragedies, lends itself to vast outlets of interpretation due to the flexible and ambiguous nature of the dialogue, void of most stage direction – a typical staple of Shakespeare’s plays. This classic tale, ripe with empathies, has been adapted to fit molds suitable for all ages, from Disney’s family-friendly “The Lion King,” to Tom Stoppard’s more sophisticated spin-off, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”
Stony Brook University’s Department of Theatre Arts took their turn at adapting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a two-week run from April 11 to April 21 at the Staller Center.
The performance was intimate – held in a smaller theater dimly lit and bare of traditional scenery, the stage gave off a cold, haunted vibe that brought the audience right into the scene. The actors engaged the audience, speaking freely to them while performing their soliloquies. According to the “Director’s Note” listed in the program, director Valerie Clayman Pye wanted this set design because it was reminiscent of the Globe Theater in England, where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed hundreds of years ago.
Clayman Pye made a daring move and decided to perform the play sticking to the traditional script, resulting in a considerably long run time. Although changes were made in order to conserve time (Hamlet can run up to four and half hours) the script was true to the tale. Scenes like Claudius’ confession, roughly a two-page monologue and a part usually cut from the script, were preserved, giving the performance a fullness of context that is usually lost.
The cast consisted of only 10 members, with some of the ensemble actors taking on multiple roles. Though the role changes were, for the most part, defined, it was sometimes hard to determine when the cast members had switched roles. Casting-wise, the doubling was effective, especially with Matthew Fine’s performance as both Claudius and his deceased brother, the Ghost. Hamlet was also accompanied by a chorus that echoed his words during his soliloquies. Although this was an interesting choice—both haunting and metaphoric — the chorus fell short and stripped several scenes of emotional depth.
Most of the actors, including lead actor Pinkhas Nisanov (Hamlet) were “rookies—“ it was their first time ever performing in a Stony Brook production. Nisanov, a sophomore Cinema and Cultural Studies major, took control of his massive and deeply complex role, delivering dynamic hysteria and bold wit masterfully. Molly Warren’s (Ophelia) complete mental breakdown in the beginning of the fourth act left the audience in an uncomfortable silence – something the scene ultimately calls for.
There were, however, moments where the ensemble lacked the luster they needed. Some of the acting was overdone and strained, more rehearsed than natural. Fine’s Ghost was too over-the-top at certain points – his dramatic overtones drowned out the meaning of his words. Horatio’s (Sean Farrell, sophomore) performance, although engaging in the first few acts, lacked emotional vibrancy as the play wavered on.
Considering that most of these actors are not professionally trained, the performance delivered, on the whole, was well rehearsed and carefully thought out — the performance was clean, the ensemble had unity and successfully captivated the audience while telling their version of this classic tale.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars