New York City Theater
Sooner or later, an actor (male and female) has to try “Hamlet.” Now it’s Jude Law’s turn in a stark rendering that makes the melancholy Dane a cynical, despairing, Angry Young Man for this generation. Holding a mirror up to our troubled times, Law’s morbid prince so hates the harsh, “foul and pestilent” world that he longs for death and is suicidal from the outset. It’s a knife-at-the-throat performance, filled with imminent danger.
The Donmar Warehouse production, directed by Michael Grandage, that London company’s artistic director, starts in blackness, save for a piercing spotlight that picks out the grieving Hamlet. His father having been killed by Claudius, the uncle who thereupon married the dead king’s widow, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, the prince is understandably bereft. Having lost all his mirth, only the traveling Players interest him. He’s so wrought up, only the “felicity” of death will release him.
It’s a perfectly valid interpretation, especially in today’s cold and frustrating climate of wars and incivilities, of natural and man-made extinctions. Yet, except for one or two moments, it doesn’t allow for much variation. The relationship with Ophelia is as devoid of emotion as that with his mother, although one reason is the weakness of the actresses playing those roles.
We catch a fleeting glimpse of his inner pain most in the Yorick scene where he speaks tenderly and nostalgically of the long-dead jester who enlivened his childhood. Law’s Dane may not be moving nor particularly poetic, yet it is forceful and he’s a Hamlet of passion and clarity.
David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 18, 2009