Actor gives `Hamlet' strength

Performance shows festival's potential

TheaterReview

October 01, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Watch Lance Coadie Williams' hands as he portrays Hamlet, and you get a good idea of what's going on in his character's head.

When first confronted by his father's ghost, Williams raises a hand, as if to shelter himself from the ghost's horrible revelation of "murder most foul." In subsequent scenes, Hamlet again lifts a hand to his head, but not as a shield. Instead, he rubs his head as if trying to come to grips with - or perhaps expunge - the awful knowledge of his father's assassination, his uncle's guilt and his own role as avenger. At other times, Williams uses his hands comically; consider the way he flutters a long, wayward sleeve as he teases worried old Polonius.

Williams' hand gestures are subtle, not grandiose. Nor are they the only aspect of his Baltimore Shakespeare Festival performance that makes a strong impression. He also has a deep, resonant voice that seems created to recite Shakespeare.

But Williams' hands are indicative of the way this young actor - who has distinguished himself previously in highly diverse parts at Everyman Theatre - inhabits Shakespeare's most formidable role. He plays it as a serious-minded, grief-stricken man, fully in command of his wits, and he plays it all the way down to his fingertips.

Williams' assured performance is a hopeful sign for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, which wobbled earlier this summer with an unfortunate rendition of Cyrano de Bergerac. There's another promising element in this new production as well - a cross-fertilization with the Baltimore School for the Arts, of which Williams is an alum.

The cast features three faculty members: Tony Tsendeas, who is occasionally overwrought as power-hungry Claudius, Hamlet's uncle-turned-stepfather; Denise Diggs, who plays Hamlet's mother as a noble queen, totally unaware of her new husband's treachery; and Tim Marrone, who takes on various roles, including the comic relief parts of a gravedigger and a foppish courtier.

Marrone also depicts the Player King, and three of his fellow players are School for the Arts students. In the production's oddest choice, director Laura Hackman and costume designer Jennifer Stearns deck the Players out in Japanese garb, including kimonos and masks. Perhaps the point is that even exotic costumes cannot obscure the players' ability to "catch the conscience of the King" - further reinforcing Claudius' guilt.

For the most part, however, Hackman - who, together with dramaturg Ralph Blasting, has trimmed the script to under three hours - hews to a fairly traditional interpretation. And though some performances are uneven, others are little gems, including Robert Riggs' fearsome Ghost and Anne Bowles' Ophelia, whose mental deterioration is all the more affecting since she initially conveys such appealing intelligence.

Hackman and fight choreographer Lewis Shaw bring a large dose of athleticism to their staging, nowhere more evident than in the daring moment when Williams' Hamlet tries to dive headfirst into Ophelia's grave - just another example of the gutsiness of this up-and-coming actor.

The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival is presenting Hamlet outdoors, in the meadow at Evergreen House. It's a beautiful setting, albeit a problematic one during hurricane season (Tropical Storm Isidore led to the cancellation of two of last weekend's performances).

But at Sunday's weather-perfect performance, the elements - natural and man-made - were a decided enhancement. Not only did the setting give audience members a chance to experience Shakespeare al fresco, as his original audiences generally did, but when police sirens sounded on Charles Street during Ophelia's mad scene, it was an eerie instance of unscripted serendipity - a moment when the time was definitely not out of joint.

Hamlet

Where: Baltimore Shakespeare Festival at Evergreen House meadow, 4545 N. Charles St.

When: 10:30 a.m. today, tomorrow and Thursday; 7 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-837-4143

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