Tuesday, March 31, 2009



By William Shakespeare. Directed by David Esbjornson. The Duke on 42nd Street. (CLOSED)

Most critics agree that the success of a production of Hamlet depends in large part on the actor playing the role, but what they can't agree on is whether or not Christian Camargo is up to the task. In his New York Times review, Charles Isherwood calls Camargo's portrayal "virtually perfect." Most critics think he is talented, but still has a way to go when it comes to some of the more reflective moments in the play. Director David Esbjornson's choices also get mixed reviews, such as his splicing together the first two scenes.

The New York Times A-
(Charles Isherwood) The strengths of Mr. Camargo’s portrayal begin with his fluid, natural handling of the language. The almost offhand lucidity with which he speaks the role establishes an instant intimacy with the audience that is sustained throughout the play. Whether he is probing the sore spots in his mind in soliloquy or putting on a frenzied mockery of madness, Mr. Camargo’s Hamlet is powerfully, painfully transparent, so that we seem to be thinking his thoughts alongside him, or reading an open book with increasing respect, sympathy and understanding. The variety of Hamlet’s mind — its ability to encompass impulses both dark and light, a hunger for oblivion but also a lively appreciation for humor, friendship and love — is brought home with a fresh-feeling sharpness because Mr. Camargo’s Hamlet is fully present in every moment of the play, as much in his joyful encounter with the Players or in his easy rapport with Horatio as when he is lacerating himself for his inability to act. As each facet of his personality is etched with clarity, the image of an individual man taking shape before us also becomes a portrait of human consciousness itself, in all its complexity, its inward anguish and its beauty.

Back Stage A-
(Ron Cohen) Director David Esbjornson's handling of his 15 actors and his fluid staging realize much of the play's poetic sweep and narrative complexities, making artful use of the compact open thrust of Antje Ellerman's set design. Even with judicious cuts to the text, the show, including two intermissions, runs nearly three and a half hours, but it moves forward at a steady clip. Christian Camargo brings intelligence and passion to the title role and infuses the soliloquies with luminous clarity. It's painful to pick at such a monumental performance, but at times it comes across as a bit calculated. Lacking is some of the spontaneity that can resolve the mercurial contradictions in Hamlet's behavior as the troubled prince, charged with revenging his father's murder, does battle with his conscience, his soul, and the world around him.

CurtainUp A-
(Elyse Sommer) Even at a hefty three hours and fifteen minutes, some cuts and downsizing of plot elements are inevitable, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Craig Pattison and Richard Topol) and all the much quoted verbal gems made the cut. Best of all, there's no loss of the intimate connection between actors and audience that comes with the large houses needed to accommodate superstar productions. The Duke's thrust stage has the audience close to the actors, with Hamlet even sitting right in the aisle as if part of the audience to watch the play-within-the-play also known as the mousetrap scene. What about this Hamlet? Christian Carmago is at times somewhat distant, with a tendency to be more outraged than melancholy and indecisive. Director David Esbjornson not only moved his "to be or not to be" soliloquy to resume the play after the first intermission but has Carmago interrupt himself and replay it — an amusing filip which somewhat offsets the fact that these don't seem to be the words uttered by a man contemplating suicide. Generally speaking, no complaints about the clarity of Carmago's line delivery. Unlike older more mature actors for whom this role is a career milestone, having young actors to play Hamlet, Horatio (Tom Hammond), Laertes (Graham Hamilton), and the very briefly appearing Fortinbras (Sean Haberle), make this very much a young man's play about sons dealing with the loss of a father.

The New Yorker B+
(Unsigned) David Esbjornson’s stylish production—Gertrude looks as if she’s headed to a catwalk—uses a sleek black-and-white palette, reminiscent of an expensive chess set. Is it too sleek? Perhaps it might be, were the actors not so fluid with the verse.

Associated Press B
(Jennifer Farrar) David Esbjornson's direction conveys the subtle human flaws, passion and inconsistencies in all the characters, though some seem overly restrained. King Claudius (Casey Biggs) is almost a figurehead, only coming to life late in the play with his repentance speech. Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, played as an icy socialite by Alyssa Bresnahan, finally defrosts when confronted by her son in the bedroom scene. Camargo gives way to occasional ranting that livens up the production. He seems overly forceful, rather than rueful, in the "get thee to a nunnery" speech, shouting violently at his former girlfriend, Ophelia (a sensitive portrayal by Jennifer Ikeda.) But for the most part, Camargo gives Hamlet undeniable weight and depth.

Nytheatre.com B
(Alyssa Simon) In the playbill for Theatre For A New Audience's Hamlet, Jeffrey Horowitz, the artistic director and founder, states that their 2008-09 season is called HEAVYWEIGHTS (with all caps intended) because the plays, by Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and Edward Bond, "explore power, marriage and family, good and evil, and God and humanity. They are as immediate as today's headlines." David Esbjornson, Hamlet's director, stays true to this intent. For example, he incorporates Arthurian legend to explore honor and familial duty and uses interesting text cuts to comment on current events. While big themes and contemporary issues are explored in powerful and fascinating ways, what is missing is a more personal story. I believe, however, with such a strong cast, they will find their own way into the text as the run progresses.

Village Voice B
(Alexis Soloski) In the role of the Danish prince, Esbjornson has cast Christian Camargo, a strong and lean ectomorph. Indeed, Camargo seemed the chief inducement for nearly a dozen giddy young women who laced the audience at a recent preview. During the intervals, they lavished praise upon his inky hair and pointed cheekbones. As for the play, well, they were sure it was very good—but, oh, those flashing eyes!

Theatermania C-
(David Finkle) For English-speaking actors, the role of Hamlet has the same effect Mount Everest exercises on mountaineers. They have to climb it because it's there. But the ascent is treacherous and not everyone gets to plant a flag at the top. Take Christian Camargo, who's assumed the part in David Esbjornson's Theatre for a New Audience production of Hamlet at the Duke on 42nd Street. He gets far up the steep incline but advances no farther, waylaid by the four famous soliloquies. And a Hamlet without a thoroughly successful Hamlet is, of course, inescapably compromised... Taking the dare on with what's often called the world's greatest play, Esbjornson is roughly as effective as Camargo -- except in one brief sequence he handles so perceptively it's tempting to give him full marks for the enterprise. Although the Bard leaves Gertrude's complicity in the older Hamlet's poisoning by Claudius open to interpretation, Esbjornson sees her as unaware and, as the play unfolds, increasingly suspicious of the man with whom she posted "with dexterity to incestuous sheets." As a result, there's a point late in the play when Claudius approaches Gertrude and she subtly recoils from him. It's a gesture that may never have been seen before and may never be seen again -- but it's a dilly.

Variety D+
(Marilyn Stasio) Antje Ellerman's minimalist set of open walls and clean-lined occasional pieces (which seem to float above the reflecting black tiles of the stage) and Elizabeth Hope Clancy's monochromatic costume palette (industrial grey, relieved by infusions of pearl grey, bridal white and biker black) suggest some cool post-modern world where objects speak in symbols (e.g., a plain silver sash draped over a business suit says: "I'm the King here"). If Esbjornson means to strip the play of its conventional trappings, it seems odd to raid Gothic traditions for Jonathan Fried's awe-inspiring Ghost, who makes one memorable appearance with a hellish demon riding on his back. (As Horatio, Tom Hammond reacts to this fearsome vision with a naturalness that is wonderfully uncool.)... There are big inconsistencies in the way Esbjornson treats his working themes of youth-versus-age, thought-versus-action, and truth-versus-vengeance. But aside from all that, it would be nice to know what to make of those wriggling worms of light that periodically appear all over everybody's faces.

Time Out New York D
(David Cote) We’ve seen too many Hamlets to be impressed by this modern-dress, abstract-minimalist approach, which offers scant thrills or insights. Christian Camargo is handsome and brooding enough for the title role, but his merely adequate readings of the great soliloquies unfold into a dramatic vacuum. Casey Biggs’s Claudius does the requisite pawing of Gertrude, Tom Hammond is yet another staunch Horatio, and Jennifer Ikeda proves that no contemporary actor can pull off Ophelia’s mad scenes. As Polonius, the venerable Alvin Epstein is darling but uninspired.

The New York Times A- 12; Back Stage A- 12; CurtainUp A- 12; The New Yorker B+ 11; Associated Press B 10; Nytheatre.com B 10; Village Voice B 10; Theatermania C- 6; Variety D+ 5; TONY D 4; TOTAL: 92/10 = 9.2 (B-)

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