The question on Hamlet’s mind is “To be or not to be?”—but the rest of us are all wondering whether Hamlet is really insane, or just pretending. Every production seeks to answer this question in some new, intriguing way; all too often, modernized adaptations fall flat in their efforts to make the play more “relevant.”
Fortunately, while Pioneer Theatre Company’s Hamlet is far from stiff or slavishly Elizabethan, it avoids the pitfalls of ham-handed updates—and, in its straightforward respect for Shakespeare’s words, achieves a startling degree of relevance.
Michael Crane (pictured), as the eponymous Dane, is incandescent. His commanding and (often literally) frothy performance illuminates the character with rare vigor. Indeed, the entire production is imbued with extraordinary buoyancy. Director Charles Morey brings a light touch to elucidate the play’s delicate humor and relentless wordplay. Polonius (Noble Shropshire) is more lovable geriatric than tedious dotard. The farcical play-withina-play is delightfully executed, and Paul Kiernan as the Gravedigger is engagingly loony.
Such sparkling moments must be handled deftly if they aren’t to mock the play’s grimmer aspects, and PTC’s production finds just the right balance. Greg Thornton strides masterfully across the stage as Claudius, and Gertrude (Joyce Cohen) is wonderfully, terribly tragic. The climactic battle scene is electrifying; Crane handles a bated foil like nobody’s business.
If Hamlet is crazy, he’s crazy like a fox. The play examines the relationship between words and deeds, a tenuous relationship that is emblematic of our times: For, when words become meaningless, then the world has gone truly mad.
Hamlet @ Pioneer Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, 801-581-6961, through Oct. 2, Monday- Thursday 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 8 p.m.; Sept. 25 matinee 2 p.m.; Oct. 2 matinee 1:30 p.m.; $24-$42. PioneerTheatre.org