Review of Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Draper
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma State University, Evert B. Person Theatre, Rohnert Park

RUN: May 3-8, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 6, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Depression gorges itself on the young prince of Denmark, when a glimmer of hope is offered. Craving a reason to live, he finds it in the consuming mission to fulfill his father’s need for revenge. Shakespeare expertly interplays gained purpose with its loss. Ophelia finds herself adrift, unable to clasp an anchor to hold her in the world, while Hamlet embraces his deadly commission. The desperate search for meaning grants and destroys life, leaving no character unchanged. Sonoma State’s production is a loose contemporary setting with echoes of the 1960s. Stark yet poignant set design by Mikiko Uesugi is augmented by Michael Ackley’s subtle lighting and the finest sound design I have experienced in a Shakespeare play (Jesse Olsen Bay).

Hamlet opens to an atmospheric, wind-swept atmosphere of drifting fog, setting the tone for a grounded, energetic staging. The mix of modern themes and attitude with traditional melodramatic presentation is somewhat jarring, creating a muddied result. There is a lack of cohesive emphasis—the effect is a mix of comedic and intense, such as the confrontation between Hamlet (Matt Lindberg) and his mother (Lyla Elmassian) which moved between both. Matt Lindberg carried the role with poise and flashes of brilliance, but delivered in a monotone manner, occasionally slurring the elocution. Régine Danaé’s Ophelia conveys a wide range of emotion despite her few lines; her madness flitting through horrified bystanders akin to the notable scene from Giselle.

Photo by David Papas

Rosemarie Kingfisher as a gravedigger is a delightful surprise, and easily became the highlight of the second act. Her cheerful, yet deadpan delivery foils well with Hamlet. Many of the characters had a gender recasting, which is effective in creating memorable roles for women in a play where they are relegated to plot point and hapless symbol. From the strong, yet calculating Polonius (Reneé Hardin) to passionate swordswoman Laertes (Deanna Maher) the Danish court is diverse and personable to a modern audience.

Sonoma State’s Hamlet is solid, with fetching production design. While not entirely consistent in its presentation, it is an entertaining evening, and I applaud the students’ efforts on the longest play in Shakespeare’s canon. It raises difficult questions to ponder—are we alive simply because we fear death, is there a purpose worth dedicating everything to, and how honest should we be to that mission while risking our relationships? The end is far from silent.