I’ve been going to Hart House Theatre for a very long time, going back to my own participation as an undergrad in another century, a place for ambitious productions, a less-than-ideal space built in a lovely old building full of tradition.
The new Hamlet directed by Paolo Santalucia opened Wednesday night to a full house, to begin a three week run. The cast are already solidly in command, as I can only recall one missed line, in a long wordy play. Santalucia has given us lots to ponder.
The set design by Nancy Perrin is a curious sculptural construction. If it’s not post-apocalyptic it at least suggests the freight of associations we all bring to any new reading of a Shakespeare play, particularly this one. Can you say “anxiety of influence”? When I interviewed young Dan Mousseau earlier this week this was one of the things I wondered, as one steps onto a stage that echoes Hamlets of yore, both cinematic and live, heroic and hammy (including Mel Brooks glorious take in To Be or Not to Be).
From his arrival onstage, Mousseau is in command: of his text, of his story, of the evening. At times I felt as though I was watching a one-man show of soliloquys, interrupted by the occasional bit of business, because his readings were so extraordinary, so original, so confident, so effortless. I’d asked him about Hamlet’s age, because he’s younger than what we’re accustomed to , even if I have always been bothered by 40 year old Hamlets who are in their mother’s closet, a mother who is presumably still sexual at… 60 or more? Now if Hamlet is 22 (or playing 25, as Mousseau said), this is all that much more plausible. Claudius and Gertrude are younger, more vital, and Hamlet seems oppressed that much harder by their actions. His outcome is more tragic, beginning to resemble that of Romeo, as he and Ophelia are pushed by the offenses of their elders. The play is most vivid and alive during Dan’s soliloquys, as the play hits its stride whenever he’s alone. Perhaps that’s simply because the play itself is working very hard at times.
When the players arrive? Then it’s no longer just on Mousseau’s shoulders. Whenever there is a musical set-piece –and full marks to Jeremy Hutton, Kristen Zaza and anyone onstage during these magical moments—the piece comes fully alive. In the oath-swearing, in the funeral for Ophelia, in the fight sequence, Santalucia does well with his management of people onstage.
I don’t think I’ve ever liked Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern quite so much, the nerdy pair of Alan Shonfield and Dylan Evans, moody, conspiratorial, creepy. Nate Bitton gave us the different facets of Laertes –as the likeable and loving brother, fierce avenger, and eventually the one to validate Hamlet in the final scene’s reconciliation. Cameron Johnston gave us an interesting pairing, as the ghost and his brother Claudius, chanelling something a bit like Stephen Harper in his bland friendliness (did I make you shiver at the thought?). Annemieke Wade’s Gertrude is a sympathetic mother, very powerful in the big closet scene with her son. Thomas Gough hits the right notes as Polonius. Sheelagh Daly’s Ophelia, once given centre stage knew how to take advantage beautifully. Eric Finlayson was as likeable a Horatio as one could ask, while Andrei Preda’s Gravedigger energized the show just when it needed it.
In the end you will be moved. “Let the audience look to their eyes.”
Hamlet continues until Nov 21st.