Is there something rotten in the town of Hanover? Or dare one hope that a fledgling theatrical company is successful in presenting its first production of Shakespeare at their new home, Laura’s Center for the Arts Theater at the Hanover Emilson YMCA? ‘Tis a mouthful, but also ‘tis a collaboration devoutly to be wished. But a truly professional production at a venue in the burbs? While it’s true that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of, it’s also often true that regional companies attempting Shakespeare (especially “Hamlet”, his longest and arguably most popular work) are more matter with less art, with soaring thoughts remaining below. Not so with this production of the four hundred year old tragedy, by the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company. What a piece of work is this “Hamlet”! Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt one’s admiration for this company, nor doubt whether to see or not to see it. This is an exciting new beginning for a company with great promise that is already delivering on that promise, at extraordinarily low ticket prices, given such an amazing ensemble of actors.
This above all, to their own selves they’re true, and so it follows that their acting couldn’t be false to any theatergoer. As is so often true of ensembles, when good actors come, they come in battalions. This version of the play stars Neil McGarry (who is also the Producing Artistic Director of the company) in the title role, in an exhilaratingly athletic performance. Jessica Webb is his Ophelia (very believably deranged), with Dana Block as Gertrude (and frailty never named this woman), Ron Lacey as both Claudius and the Ghost (and a 2012 Elliot Norton Award nominee, a little more than kin and way less than kind), Bill Salem as a very animated Polonius, James Bocock as an engaging Laertes, and Omar Robinson as Horatio (another 2012 Elliot Norton Award nominee). The rest of the cast (with several excellent current or recent Boston Conservatory students) includes David Frank (as Player King/Francisco/Gravedigger), Lydia Barnett-Mulligan as Rosencrantz/ Osric (and especially good as the latter), Mike Maloney (as Guildenstern/Fortinbras), Emily Shankman (as Marcellus/
Player Queen/Gentlewoman), Paige Berkovitz as Voltemand/Player Lucianus/Gravedigger), Jonathan Luke Stevens (with great stage presence as Reynaldo/Player/Sergeant/Pallbearer), and Alexis Scheer (as Bernardo/Messenger/Captain/Priest). As superbly directed by Christopher James Webb, they’re all to the Shakespearean manner born. His ingenious use of multiple adjunct playing spaces is wonderfully creative. In action how like an angel it is, including the swordplay and the staging of his barefoot Hamlet‘s famous soliloquy, which won’t be revealed here.
This “Hamlet” is no indecisive portrait, but an intentionally politically centered one. With a play so frequently performed and a plot so universally familiar but by no means vulgar (and inspiring other works too numerous to mention, even including an animated Disney version in “The Lion King”), one’s critique of any production might struggle to refrain from comparisons to earlier incarnations that are the stuff of legend. Yet, as Shakespeare puts it in the play in question, one must be cruel, only to be kind; at least, one must be as objective as possible, primarily about the venue itself. The performance space is filled with hard surfaces, such as a concrete floor, which make for serious auditory challenges, where words fly up, sometimes never to return. In the end, though, the play’s the thing, wherein they catch the conscience of an audience. And speaking of ends, one could be forgiven for praying that one’s too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew, considering the length of the work (an abridged, nonetheless daunting, three and a quarter hours, alleviated by truly comfortable chairs). That aside, since brevity is the soul of wit, let it simply be said: neither a borrower nor a lender be, but get thee, not to a nunnery, but to the Hanover YMCA, and somehow procure a ticket. What memories to carry into sleep, perchance to dream, and what pictures to recall that are so imprinted on one’s mind! Goodnight, sweet imprints, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, for that sound you hear will be the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response of the audience, as well as a celebration of all that‘s right in the town of Hanover; the rest is silence.