Hamlet, StreetSigns, at Bailiwick Repertory. Artistic director Derek Goldman writes that one of the reasons StreetSigns is producing Hamlet is that company members “had never been as profoundly moved by seeing it as by reading it.” Weary of gizmo-laden Shakespeare productions, Goldman began his Hamlet “without a gimmick, with no visions of saunas, helicopters, futuristic gargoyles.” Performing in semimodern dress on a bare stage, StreetSigns offers a stripped-down staging that emphasizes text and performance over reinterpretation. A wall of mirrors at the back cleverly allows an almost 360-degree view of the action while creating a timeless atmosphere.
Set in an empty expanse that’s not quite Denmark and not quite America, this production is most effective in the play’s existential terrain. Goldman’s unobtrusive approach sets in stark relief Hamlet’s soliloquies (astutely delivered by Joseph Wycoff) and his encounters with his spectral father, the pivotal play within the play, and Ophelia’s chilling mad scene. But Goldman’s somewhat vague staging is less compelling during such crucial moments as Polonius’s death and Queen Gertrude’s poisoning, when it lacks immediacy and dramatic import. Deliberately aiming to respect rather than reinterpret, Goldman doesn’t so much subvert the usual Hamlet cliches–the breathy oedipal tension between Hamlet and Gertrude, Polonius’s fumbling long-windedness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s hapless vaudeville shenanigans–as downplay them. As a result this Hamlet is more diverting than gripping, more intelligent than brilliant, and despite the talent and competence on display, less effective performed than it would have been read.