So a short time ago I managed to see both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (closes July 22) and Hamlet (closes July 29) in the same week. The former is playing at the Studio Theatre and the latter at the Shakespeare Theatre. While I'd seen Hamlet staged before, I had never seen Stoppard's play staged before. I'm glad we saw the Stoppard before the Shakespeare, because the Shakespeare Theatre production made a few allusions to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that would have passed right over my head, such as the coin flips executed incessantly in Stoppard's play.
It was also fun to see the central action of Hamlet pressed to the margins so the side characters and minor subplots could come out. At the Studio, the actor playing Hamlet put on a little campiness (not in a bad way) when he delivered one of Hamlet's leading and laden speeches to Polonius, and Floyd King's turn as the debauched Player is tremendous. The leads are both great, and I can only imagine how exhausting that play must be for the two of them, as they are both on stage nearly the entire time (really...the entire time, with one or two breaks that might be long enough to catch their breath).
Seriously, go see it.
The interesting thing to me about Shakespeare Theatre's production of Hamlet is that I last saw them produce Hamlet with Wallace Acton in the lead, and if you've ever seen Wallace Acton in a leading role, you tend to think he's the perfect actor for the part. He did an amazing Ariel in The Tempest several years ago, and a chilling Richard III (the most recent Shakespeare Theatre production of Richard III was so dead to me that my wife and I actually walked out of the theatre at intermission, and we've never done that before, even when she was ill with the inappropriately named "morning sickness" before our son was born), but sadly Wallace Acton is no longer in Washington, having deserted our little backwater for the bright lights of New York City.
So I was worried that I wouldn't find this Hamlet so very good in Hamlet. Not true, not true. Jeffrey Carlson's Hamlet comes across as far more disturbed than Acton's portrayal, and while Acton's Hamlet emphasized the calculating side of the Prince with occasional bursts of mania, Carlson plays the mania up with occasional bursts of calculation. It's a powerful performance, which is good, since the play is over three hours long. Michelle Beck's Ophelia is very good and in my mind highlights a recent trend at the Shakespeare Theatre: good actresses playing very solid roles with more depth than in the past. This production also brings forth the sexual interactions between the King and Queen, with one scene making it quite obvious that the two have been interrupted in the midst of lovemaking...ewww is pretty much what I thought.
Let me tell you, it's a busy month for theatre as far as I'm concerned. This weekend we're hitting the Imagination Stage production of The Araboolies of Liberty Street and then Arena Stage's EMERGENCE-See.