“Hamlet” opened Friday night at Lincoln Park Middle School, and if this proves to be its final production, Wise Fool Theater is definitely not going out with a whimper.
Brad Damon’s Hamlet is an angry young man with a chip on his shoulder, making little effort by voice or look to hide his thoughts or feelings. For his first soliloquy, “O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,” he strides downstage to confront us with his words and wrath.
Damon’s sarcasm is palpable, but so is his pain when he entreats his father’s ghost (Tony Barrett, making it perfectly clear Hamlet inherited his anger) to speak. By the time he launches into “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” it is clear this is a “must see” performance.
Ten years ago, with Wise Fool’s debut production, an overly rationale Hamlet was confronted by a most amiable Claudius. This time Hamlet’s burning anger and the blunt arrogance of Andrew Kirov’s Claudius keep sparks flying throughout the play.
From the start, the dialogue was as brisk as the swordplay at the finish.
Director Channi Ninneman not only chose her cast, but she also crafted the script, which does a great job of connecting the dots. Rather than relying on just the telling, Hamlet and Ophelia (Jennie Ross) exchange a long kiss showing us their love.
My most indelible memories of Ross on stage are watching her shatter in silence. This time, she is also working with Shakespeare’s words, and Ophelia’s emotional destruction is simply heartrending.
The scene where Hamlet makes his companions swear four times not to reveal his meeting with his father’s ghost reveals the hero’s tragic flaw. Of course, one oath proves insufficient to a man who needs more evidence of Claudius’s guilt than his father’s ghost returning from beyond the grave to name the murderer.
Then there is “To be or not to be,” where the audience is always saying the lines along in their heads.
In the wake of Hamlet’s dissection of the performance by the First Player (Tammy Ostrander), and with Ophelia clearly listening in, Damon’s Hamlet convinced me Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy is a complete sham — he does not mean a single word of it — and that provides a rebirth of meaning and import.
Ann Gumpper’s set consists of massive slabs of stone, scarred with fractures, and lit in the opening with a purplish-blue pallor that sets a somber tone.
However, Ninneman leavens the evening with much humor and not just from the verbal wordplay such as the exchange without equivocation between Hamlet and Kirsten Hambleton’s gravedigger.
Laertes (Ian Wallin) trying to give his sister, a giggling Ophelia, the “talk” is a hoot. Hambleton’s Polonius achieves a verbal ineptitude approaching Dogberry on the Shakespeare scale. Then there is pretty much anything with Ben Peter and Hayley Lindbeck as the not-dead-yet Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern.
Saying that missing “Hamlet” would be a crime might be an overstatement. But our theatrical community losing Wise Fool Theater would be an unforgivable sin.
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.
If you go
What: Wise Fool Theater’s “Hamlet”
Where: Lincoln Park Middle School, 3215 W. Third St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 13
Tickets: Available at wisefooltheater.com (Sundays are pay-what-you-can)