The Prince of Denmark Fails to Enthrall
by Raquel Sanchez
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world.
~Hamlet, Act 1 scene 2
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company’s (LAWSC) all female version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a worthy experiment that failed to hold me enthralled. As a big fan of Shakespeare’s tragedy, I missed the frenetic energy I associate with Hamlet and his descent into madness. The play was slow-paced and I clock-watched for intermission hoping for a faster paced second act.
Co-Directed by the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company’s founding/ artistic director Lisa Wolpe and Natsuko Ohama, the direction was unsuccessful in infusing Hamlet with the witty repartee and agony usually associated with the Prince of Denmark. Although I found the actors gave worthy performances, particularly Natsuko Ohama as Polonius, Kimberleigh Aarn as Horatio and Cynthia Beckert as Laertes, I was bored with scenes that I usually find funny or poignant.
Example: the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia when she is returning his letters. There was a missed opportunity to show that Hamlet loved Ophelia. Instead, it felt stale and one-dimensional, negating her later claims to Polonius of his love for her and the inferences that they shared a physical relationship. Although we as audience members know that Hamlet is aware of her innocent duplicity, his sudden rage against Ophelia feels misplaced because the nuances of that relationship were missing.
Lisa Wolpe as Hamlet was too philosophical. Her moments of rage appeared without transition. Wolpe’s bedroom scene with Gertrude, played marvelously by Laura Wernette, is missing the ache and injustice that makes me as an audience member sympathize with Hamlet. Wolpe goes from philosophical to rage in 60 seconds, leaving me coughing up dust trying to catch up.
I enjoyed Wolpe’s philosophical and acerbic moments but wanted to see the Great Dane’s evolution into a state of self-imposed madness. Does he go mad because he sees his father’s ghost and learns about the foul play? Is he mad at all?
Linda Bisesti was subtle in her comedy as Osric and fun to watch as the Gravedigger. Also Cynthia Beckert and Chastity Dotson had great sibling chemistry as Laertes and Ophelia. Their scenes felt natural and Laertes’ desire to avenge Polonius’s death felt innate and believable.
LAWSC’s Hamlet may be too intellectual for my tastes. I wanted a real juicy tragedy that made me agonize over Hamlet’s death while I cheered the demise of King Claudius. Hamlet’s thirst for revenge is what drives this story because it reflects the human condition and desire to exact justice. We thrive on stories where characters do what we wish we had the capacity of doing, but in Hamlet, we learn that there is always a price to pay. The director’s choice was to play more with Hamlet’s philosopher’s mind while I expected the fast pace of madness, with revenge and blood thrown in for good measure.
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Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lisa Wolpe and Natsuko Ohama
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
September 7-October 27
Wednesdays @ 8pm: Sept. 18; October 2, 16 only
Thursdays @ 8pm: Sept. 12, 26; Oct. 10. 24 only
Fridays @ 8pm, Saturdays @ 8pm and Sundays @ 2pm
Tickets: 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com