PROVIDENCE -- Get thee to the Trinity.
Sorry, I swore I'd never use that construction again, but after two disappointing productions of ''Hamlet" in Boston during the past year, it is such a joy to meet up with one so lucid and thrilling that it reminds you why this may be the greatest play ever written.
Great plays require great productions, and the Trinity Repertory Company has come up with a ''Hamlet" that showcases not only Shakespeare but an invigorated standing company -- a rarity in itself these days -- luxuriating in its theatrical space.
Acting artistic director Amanda Dehnert and legendary resident designer Eugene Lee have transformed the upstairs Chace Theater this season from a not particularly interesting auditorium into an in-your-face hall in which performance platforms are situated among audience members. Hamlet might be directing his ''To be or not to be" soliloquy right to you as he prowls the aisles. Ophelia may be taking a mad bath above you after her mother has been killed.
Yes, mother. Polonius in this production is a woman. If director Brian McEleney is saying something about gender, I'm not sure what it is exactly. Perhaps as an actor in the company as well, he thought the part was perfect for Janice Duclos, and he was right about that as well as about almost all his directorial choices. Duclos's overweening attention to her children and her rigid sense of class are the source of great amusement, but they're also a part of the tragedy of the times in which McEleney has set the play.
That would be the 1930s: An aristocracy is on its way out, symbolized by Claudius and the cabaret atmosphere of the castle. A pianist plays the Marlene Dietrich classic ''Falling in Love Again," and Polonius and her family are now servants, the downstairs element of an ''Upstairs Downstairs" class structure.
If this sounds like directorial self-indulgence, it's the farthest thing from it. ''Hamlet" unfolds as if McEleney and the actors thought out every word and idea and then he and production designer Tristan Jeffers came up with ideal ways to illustrate them. When Hamlet debates whether to kill Claudius, for example, he points a gun at his murderous stepfather as the latter prays amid audience members -- adding an extra layer of tension to the scene.
Great productions of ''Hamlet" are mostly remembered for the lead actor -- Ralph Fiennes and Simon Russell Beale in relatively recent stagings. Here Stephen Thorne is the first of equals.
The accomplished Thorne is closer to Beale's bookish philosopher than to Fiennes's depressive existentialist. Still, he is no more important to McEleney's conception of a violent and corrupt state and how to take action against it than are the other members of the cast. When one thinks of this ''Hamlet," it is as likely to be of Duclos's Polonius, Rachael Warren's heartrending Ophelia, Timothy Crowe's arrogant Claudius, Joe Wilson Jr.'s smart Horatio, or the assortment of characters played by Fred Sullivan Jr. The entire cast displays a remarkably relaxed, easy delivery of Shakespeare's language.
Most memorable of all is the sheer force of physical and intellectual energy that McEleney and Trinity bring to bear. Incoming artistic director Curt Columbus seems devoted to maintaining Trinity's ideal of a large standing company.
After seeing this ''Hamlet" it's easy to see why.
Ed Siegel can be reached at email@example.com.