Ah, youth. Ah, Hamlet. Ah, well. In Mladen Kiselov’s pared-down Long Wharf production (three hours, 10 principals, no waiting), Hamlet is played by 27-year-old Hamish Linklater with collegiate intensity, confusion and angst. Maybe there’s a trend afoot in casting the conflicted royal as a man younger than, say, Prince Charles: Trevor Nunn’s current production at the Old Vic has the Elsinore kids in their 20s, too. But while this “Friends” approach to the familiar tale of paternal power and filial duty gives the New Haven production a certain authenticity and freshness, verity is not profundity. A less-seasoned solitary man in the throes of examining the core of his being also lacks that bottomless depth into which audiences look to see themselves.
The tall, lanky Linklater, who had the lead in the world preem of “The Violet Hour” at South Coast Rep, again makes a strong impression as a rising talent, balancing the quirks of a singular personality with the technical skills necessary to take on this career-making role. Linklater’s speech is confident, his meanings clear and his passion credible, demonstrating without a doubt that he is an actor of immense range, originality and presence.
But this young Hamlet too often veers toward juvenilia. Though there are some nice comic touches and ticks that gives this Hamlet a crazy charm — and not just when he is feigning madness — the boldness sometimes goes too far, such as when he rolls himself in a carpet when he sees the Ghost in his mother’s chamber.
But the production as a whole is unorthodox in more than a few ways.
The Bulgarian-born director has set the work in a Beckettian universe. In the middle of Douglas Stein’s gray, bleak and rough-terrained landscape sits a platform where much of the royal action takes place. Jennifer Tipton’s chilly lighting and Paul Tazewell and Michael McAleer’s black leather hardware-and-lace costumes add to the post-modern, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. It’s a brutal, barren world where Kiselov attempts to strip the play to its bare essentials.
He has slashed and reworked the text; often quite effectively. The production cuts the opening scene, where the Ghost makes his first appearance, and starts the action straight away with what seems like a dysfunctional family drama. (At times these mood-swinging, booze-swigging royals are more like Danish Tyrones.)
Kiselov also has eliminated Fortinbras, the Second Gravedigger, Guildernstern (lucky Rosencrantz gets more lines) and many of the Players (this tiny troupe must be touring with Danish two-handers). Several actors do double and triple duty. At times it feels even the palace is facing cutbacks, with minimal servant help in its and underpopulated kingdom (the sudden sound effects of the hordes at the castle gates are unintentionally funny).
Still, for much of the play, the smaller ensemble works well. Its principal failing comes with the limits of some of the principals. Joseph Siravo’s Claudius is a bombastic king, showing little of the guile and grace necessary for his actions. Mariana Dimitrova has the emotional core of Gertrude, but her thick accent overwhelms the part.
An able Mireille Enos plays Ophelia with too much strength and self-possession in the early scenes, making her descent into madness, though powerful and moving, seem all too sudden. Vet actor Clayton Corzatte is a solid Polonius and a splendid Gravedigger; John Braden brings poignant grandness as the First Player and gentle humor to Osric. Craig Maravich makes a strong and steadfast Horatio. Charles Borland as Laertes and Michael Zlabinger as Rosencrantz are generic.
Kiselov brings back the Ghost — played imposingly in nightmarish armor by Richard Ziman — for the final moments of the play, as if to underscore the tragedy of the triumph warrior-fathers have over their humanistic sons. This dramatic return underscores the sometimes odd, sometimes off and sometimes intriguing production.