Richard Hamburger

Dallas Theater Center Fills “Hamlet” with Emotion

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

How nice it would be if any of Dallas’ sports teams were as strong in every position as the Dallas Theater Center’s new Hamlet.

Richard Hamburger’s production of the classic tragedy, which opened at the Kalita Humphreys Theater on Tuesday, doesn’t feature any big names, but you could still call it an all-star outing. The director has recruited top-flight talent for every role; the stage is even swarming with young actors who might make interesting Hamlets themselves, such as Billy Eugene Jones, Matthew Stephen Tompkins and Chuck Huber.

Not that they would give us this Hamlet. The actor who actually performs the role, Jason Butler Harner, has a distinct take on the Prince of Denmark. He’s smart, sensitive, funny, a little weak – the most truly unstable Hamlet in memory. This fresh prince might really play the piano, paint abstract paintings and kill somebody almost by accident.

Sometimes Mr. Harner just misses the grandeur of the verse, especially in the famous soliloquies. This is an acceptable tradeoff, though, for the luminous intelligibility and humanity he brings to the role. In fact, we miss him a lot during the second-half scenes in which he is absent.

Mr. Hamburger has given his star sumptuous surroundings. The director honors Shakespeare by taking every character onstage seriously and rendering them all three-dimensional, even the tedious Polonius (Ross Bickell) and the effete courtiers like Rosencrantz (Regan Adair) and Osric (Chamblee Ferguson).

For modern performers, perhaps the most difficult role here is Ophelia. Karron Graves solves its problems better than most. We believe in her affection for Hamlet and in her confusion. The drawback in making her seem so like a modern intellectual is that making her mad scene pretty, as her brother Laertes (Mr. Huber) calls it, obviously wouldn’t work. As played, it isn’t really touching, either – though Mr. Huber’s sorrowful response to her death is.

Caitlin O’Connell gives us a wistful, understated Gertrude. Shawn Elliot brings intelligence and dignity to the wicked Claudius, but sometimes orates. Michael Kevin does exemplary triple duty as the Ghost, the Player King and the Gravedigger.

The set, designed by Klara Zieglerova, makes efficiency the height of elegance. It serves marvelously as castle and cliff as well as court and bedroom, but has the usual Hamburger tricks up its sleeve. The whole design is world-class.

Finally, though, as in most Hamlets, what you remember about this one is the Hamlet. Mr. Harner’s may not yet be for the ages, but is certainly a captivating one for our time.

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.