Shakespeare once said (in the play Hamlet, actually) that "when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." The same could be said of stage productions of Hamlet, a play so popular and attractive to audiences that one seldom has to look far to find some theater company, often several at once, performing the thing. Currently, there are two dueling productions of Hamlet in the North Bay, one with a grand, WW I setting with a full cast, the other an experimental deconstruction featuring a single actor playing all the parts, in reverse.
The former, presented by the College of Marin and directed by 45-year COM veteran James Dunn, has generated a great deal of buzz, based almost solely on the psychologically daring performance of 22-year-old actor David Abrams. In a production re-imagined by Dunn as taking place in the early part of the 20th century, Abrams presents a melancholy Dane who is clearly bipolar, an acting choice that helps make sense of the character's inexplicable shifts of mood and emotion.
Dunn, who has directed such famous folks as Robin Williams, David Ogden Stiers and Kathleen Quinlan during his COM career, has openly compared Abrams' performance in Hamlet to the best of the best actors he's ever worked with.
Meanwhile, in Santa Rosa, actor-director Brent Lindsay is readying a revival of his own take on Shakespeare's masterpiece. With the compelling title Hamlet: Ghost Machine, the play is not a rewrite so much as a reassembly. Using the actual text, Lindsay has pulled the play apart and put the pieces back together again, beginning with Hamlet's famous death by poisoned sword. As the overanalytical prince lies gasping out his last breaths, he attempts to make peace with all of those he's killed or wronged—along with those who've wronged him—by acting out his life for them: his mistakes, his motives, his numerous good and bad choices. Along the way, he becomes each character, playing out the scenes of his life, entirely out of order from how we usually see Hamlet's final days transpire.
Hamlet: Ghost Machine, which premiered several years ago at Healdsburg's Slaughterhouse Space art gallery, was remounted a few years later by the Imaginists. The show earned rave notices, and won the theater troupe—and Brent Lindsay—a number of ardent fans. Lindsay's cut-and-paste approach established him as a Sonoma County artist on the forefront of the North Bay's underground theater scene. Since then, the Imaginists have worked tirelessly to expand their work, which ranges from energetic presentations of classic plays to outrageous political comedy to original, actor-written memoir, and to push their reputation and name aboveground. (Last fall, the company was honored with a Boho Award by this newspaper.)
Ultimately, with two big slices of Hamlet being served at the same time, one has to wonder whether so much of the wounded Wonderboy is too much.
The answer: evidently not.
As Hamlet's uncle Claudius exclaims, prayer and repentance are a "twofold force." When it comes to the single greatest work of art in the English language, a twofold force of Hamlet is, indeed, a consummation devoutly to be wished.
'Hamlet' runs Friday&–Sunday through March 21 at the College of Marin Fine Arts Theater, corner of Sir Francis Drake and Laurel in Kentfield. March 12&–13 and 19&–20 at 7:30pm; March 13&–14 and 21 at 1:30pm. $10&–$15. 415.485.9385. 'Hamlet: Ghost Machine' runs March 12&–27 at 8pm at the Imaginists Theatre Ensemble, 461 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. $11&–$15. 707.528.7554.
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