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by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 11, 2012
Michael Benz stars as Hamlet
Michael Benz stars as Hamlet  (Source:Globe Theatre on Tour)

Arts Emerson's "World on Stage" series brings Boston audiences the Globe Theatre's production of "Hamlet" at the Paramount Center Mainstage through Oct. 21.

How much more authentic can you get than the Globe Theatre performing one of the greatest plays in the English language (if not the greatest play in the English language), Shakespeare's timeless drama about a young man caught up in cross-currents of court and family politics, betrayal, and revenge?

The story, for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is fairly simple in outline. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Michael Benz), returns from his schooling abroad for the funeral of his father, the King (Dickon Tyrrell). When the King's ghost appears and reveals that his death was not a matter of natural causes, but rather the result of poisoning by his own brother (also played by Tyrrell), Hamlet finds himself in a quandary. The new King is none other than the poisoner himself, who has usurped not only the throne but also Hamlet's mother; as Hamlet notes with some bitterness, leftovers from food served at the funeral were dished up at the celebratory feast for the regal wedding.

As simple as the plot may seem, the play's psychology is dark, complex, and compelling. Hamlet assumes an air of eccentricity as he plots his vengeance, but how much of his seeming madness is an act, and to what extent is it genuine? His melancholy and strange behavior has an effect on those around him, especially Ophelia (Carlyss Peer), to whom he is betrothed; Hamlet's madness may be, in part at least, a stratagem, but the madness Ophelia lapses into from sheer heartbreak is real enough, and the results are further tragedy.

Hers is not the only untimely demise to stem from a situation spinning more and more rapidly out of control. Political killings are plotted; reckless crimes of passion committed; poisonings carefully orchestrated, only to go awry. The body count brings bloodbaths like "Titus Andronicus" to mind, but Shakespeare was a much more mature playwright when he composed "Hamlet," and the play's true power lies with its depiction of Hamlet's hesitancy.

The American-born Benz puts a fresh spin on his role. Seeing Benz's performance, one realizes how young Hamlet is, and how unformed; the death of his father hits him hard, because he's still a kid. Hamlet is thrust into the role of avenger -- an adult task -- before he's ready for such mature responsibilities. Because he's still a juvenile, Hamlet is given to larks and outbursts of both raging temper and giddy humor. If his "madness" is to some extent unfeigned, it's due to the fact that he's a teenager; this play may well be the first in-depth study of adolescent vagary.

Under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst, this production forsakes gloom every chance it gets. The pace is brisk and upbeat, with scene transitions that are smoothly accomplished and coherence among the cast that feels solid and familial. The plays great speeches are given their due, but it's the moments of humor (some of which occur at unexpected places, and which often have a contemporary feel about them) that particularly stand out.

If the lively music, performed onstage by the actors themselves, seems familiar in its jauntiness, that's because Bill Barclay, a longtime member of Boston's own Actors' Shakespeare Project, currently serves as the Globe Theatre's composer and arranger. Barclay's music helps lift the production from doldrums and brutal slay-fest, and lends it a transcendent air. Yes, this is a tragedy; but why drag around down in the mouth about it?

"Hamlet" continues through Oct. 21 at the Paramount Center Mainstage, 559 Washington St. in Boston’s Theatre District. Tickets cost $25 - $79 and can be obtained at www.artsemerson.org or via phone at (617) 824-8400.

Performance schedule: Tuesdays - Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.; Sundays at 7:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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