Heartache and a thousand natural shocks – a review of “Hamlet”

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

A sullen, young man, still grieving from his father’s death, learns that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark in William Shakespeare’s iconic “Hamlet.”

Warning: Spoilers ahead. In fairness, it is a five hundred-year-old play.

Hamlet (Matthew Amendt) discovers his father has been murdered by Claudius (David Whalen). He just doesn’t have any proof. After all, the truth was revealed to him by a ghost (Darren Eliker), and they are not the most reliable sources. Here’s where the family tree gets very gnarled. Claudius was the king’s brother, Hammy’s uncle. Paging Dr. Phil! Stat!

The young Dane says, “A little month, or ere those shoes were old with which she followed my poor father’s body, Like Niobe, all tears—why she, even she(O, God, a beast, that wants discourse of reason – Would have mourned longer!), married with my uncle, my father’s brother, but no more like my father than I to Hercules.”

Note: You may not remember this from your high school Humanities class, but insults fly from Hamlet’s mouth like Don Rickles at Caesar’s Palace. He’s chock full of good poetical zingers.

Everyone, except his best bud, Horatio (Andrew William Miller), thinks he’s bonkers. The royal advisor, Polonius (Matt Sullivan), believes his madness springs from his yearning for his daughter, Ophelia (Jenny Leona). His behavior frightens his mom, Gertrude (Caris Vujcec), who just wants Hamlet to accept that she’s now married to his uncle.

But Hamlet is shrewd. He’s playing crazy to catch the newly crowned king in his deceit. He must ascertain his uncle’s guilt and avenge his father’s death. His procrastination, however, causes untold tragedy.

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s a quick ride. One of the best things about Ted Pappas’ direction is the dialogue and monologues are delivered swiftly. It’s less Sir Lawrence Oliver and more “Gilmore Girls.”

Matthew Amendt as Hamlet holding the skull of Yorick. Photo credit: Michael Henninger.

Amendt is amazing as Hamlet. He commands the O’Reilly stage as if he owns it. He is magnetic.

Side note: In 2009, the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted a version of the play for the small screen with David Tennant in the titular role. Amendt’s interpretation of the Prince of Denmark was reminiscent of Tennant’s performance.

Whalen rules as Claudius. He is riveting as the murderous king. There’s a magnificent soliloquy where Claudius prays for forgiveness after his evil deed. It was an electric performance.

Vujcec is a strong Gertrude. It’s hard not to want to jump up from your seat when she drinks from the poisoned chalice (Spoilers – you were warned).

One of the hardest roles in “Hamlet” is Polonius. Play him too large and the doddering, old fool becomes too broad and ridiculous. Play him too small and the audience will overlook the satirical nature of the character. Sullivan gives us the Goldilocks moment and plays it just right.

Constantin Stanislavski’s once remarked, “There are no small parts, just small actors.”

Hamlet is brimming with small parts, but not small actors. Tony Bingham delivers a deliciously humorous monologue as a gravedigger. Alan Synder and Luke Halferty bring a lot to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Erika Strasberg, Quinn Patrick Shannon, Don DiGiulio, Darren Eliker and Monteze Freeland are big actors in small roles. They each bring joy to the stage in each of their brief appearances.

In the last act, there’s dynamic sword work thanks to Fight Director Randy Kovitz.

Scenic Designer James Noone is elegant but sparse. The set is simple but lavish. A series of columns stand at attention, guarding a rotunda. The rotunda acts as the throne room, the palace walls, a bedroom, etc.

This is an effervescent production. While Pappas hits some of the jokes a little too hard, particularly the bawdy line, “Do you think I meant COUNTRY matters?” Overall, it’s a glorious final bow for director Ted Pappas, who is stepping away as the Producing Artistic Director for the Pittsburgh Public Theater, and handing the reins over to Marya Sea Kaminski.

Gentle reader, I implore you. If the Bard doth please you, get thee to the O’Reilly!


“Hamlet” runs until May 20 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.



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