Opening night of Hamlet at The Station Theatre didn’t feel like opening night. Sure, there seemed to be a buzz in the air, but the capable cast met the task with ease, almost making it through the night without a hitch (more on that later). This production is a Hamlet for a modern-era “’tis sweet and commendable,” and unlike any other adaptation I’ve seen.
No, your eyes don’t deceive you — Hamlet is played by a woman. Maybe it’s something you’ve never “dreamt of in your philosophy,” but Director Mathew Green addressed this in both the Smile Politely preview of the play and on SP Radio. Basically, it’s not that he was choosing to cast a woman in the role, but that he had always envisioned Lindsey Gates-Markel in that role. Any other interpretations or judgments are what the audience brings to that fact. I was conscience of that distinction during the play, but it was irrelevant in context because the intensity and meaning remained the same. It was perhaps only highlighted during the more intimate moments between Hamlet and Ophelia, played by Katie Baldwin, where there seemed to be the slightest addition of tenderness in the expression of affection that wouldn’t have been the same from a male actor. Whatever the case may be, Green was dead on in his casting vision. Gates-Markel embodies the role of the dark, moody Dane Hamlet, transporting the audience to a new stark Elsinore that revolves around him.
The cast is solid throughout. Baldwin plays opposite Gates-Markel with ease and a level of comfort. Ophelia is one of the characters that traverses a large range of emotions in the play and Baldwin does it steadily here. The two Station veterans’ talents and experience carry the Hamlet-Ophelia love/hate relationship disaster and makes everyone else’s job easier in the process.
I was equally impressed by Lincoln Machula, who carries himself pompously around the castle, realizing the perfect embodiment of the scheming politician Claudius. He is detached in his interactions, more vested in attending to himself and his Blackberry or posing for photo-ops than listening to the others. If you didn’t already know, there are phones and video in this Hamlet and they work in tandem as a way to capture what goes on behind closed doors, eliminating privacy and exposing truths that are fighting to be hidden.
The remainder of the cast is also a delight. David Barkley is flawless as the bumbling and forgetful Polonius, and Mike Prosise’s Horatio is a strong and silent survivor that may be overlooked. The only sputter came at the end of the play, when the powerful ruler Fortinbras unfortunately did not made his cue and Gravedigger Michael Murphy was cast onto the stage to read the lines from the book. It was a small damper on the evening, but a tough way to end a three-hour play nonetheless.
The subtleties and consideration of details are two of the plays strongest points. The setting is bare bones — one set of wood fixtures house each scene, but one can soon forget about that when whisked away by Hamlet’s brooding and affliction. The play within the play, which in this case is a video within the play, is a well-executed component and a joy to watch. The same can be said for Ophelia’s suicide video and the footage of Hamlet and Ophelia hanging out in bed together. Whatever the scene or the circumstance, things generally point back to Gates-Markel. It’s her “actions that a man might play” that bring Hamlet to life and carry it into the minds of the patrons long after they’ve left the small confines of The Station.
Hamlet plays at The Station Theatre November 7–11 and Nov. 14–17.
Photos by Chris Davies
Video by Laren Pike