Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
Beware of Shakespeare productions bearing the adjectives ''hip" and ''edgy." If one is hip and edgy, there's no need to advertise it. The
We've seen a hip and edgy ''Hamlet" here and there -- the Ethan Hawke film, for one, which recast the existential Dane's crises in contemporary terms. How does someone, for example, from the ''whatever" generation motivate himself to take action?
Aquila's ''Hamlet" recasts the play in contemporary dress and contemporary attitude. You can make young audience members laugh more when your Hamlet displays madness by channeling Adam Sandler, or the young Jerry Lewis. And you can make them think that he's one of them when he looks lugubriously at the new stepdad.
But you can't get people closer to the poetic grit and transformational possibilities within Shakespeare's play when you merely play to collegiate sensibilities. The Aquila Theatre Company is a mixed group of American and British actors based in New York. Eight actors play all the roles. Most are adequate, a few are above average, and one is anemic.
Unfortunately, the anemic one is Andrew Schwartz in the title role. He has neither the experience nor the chops to communicate any sense of the despair or challenge that Hamlet has to face. Schwartz acts as if he prepared for the part by watching Owen Wilson instead of Olivier, and even that would work if he made some sense of the character instead of bouncing from one scene to another as if he were looking for a better frat party. His rage is little more than a whine; you half expect Claudius or Gertrude to just say, ''Oh, Hamlet, go to your room."
Not that he gets any help from director Robert Richmond, who cut the time to a manageable 2 1/2 hours. But there isn't much psychological exploration of the characters, though the actresses playing Gertrude and Ophelia bring an energy to the women that none of the men possess.
Natasha Piletich, in particular, makes Gertrude a wife to kill for and a mother to inspire Freud to write a case study about. Still, by the end of the play, even she can't rise above the scenic and psychic blandness that suffuses the whole production. Amateur productions have better swordfights. Emily Bennett's Ophelia rises from the grave as if to ask, ''Can I please get out of here?"
To Aquila's credit, there is a clarity in the diction that many a Shakespeare production lacks. But why settle for that? With a troupe like Shakespeare & Company, clear diction is only the first step toward probing the psychology of the character in question, whether it's why Hamlet can't take action or whether Gertrude knows the wine is poisoned.
This is the year of many Hamlets in New England, with Trinity Repertory Company up next. Let's hope we've hit bottom.
Ed Siegel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.