One of the coolest things about the Lamb's Players' current Hamlet is also one of the most obvious. Check out the costumes-you'll find that designer Jeanne Reith is absolutely on the money in her choice of outerwear. She's got quite a mix of tastes and suggestions, one that honors the timelessness of the tale. Yet sartorial representation of playwright William Shakespeare's day (or of any era, for that matter) is of secondary importance when we're more interested in the traits of the person wearing the clothes.
A play like this courses with that kind of symbolism; indeed, Hamlet himself (Nick Cordileone) is the tragic depiction of political calumny and emotional disorder. He may lack exposition (a concept Shakespeare never really grasped by today's standards), but the troubled Danish prince's thoughts of revenge toward his father's killer King Claudius (David Cochran Heath) chillingly cut a swath of madness and death, often among innocent parties.
And as Reith's great costumes paint the abstractions to these events, so too is this Hamlet a stirring, thoroughly satisfying experience.
Lamb's producing artistic director Robert Smyth directs with the utmost concern for the writer's sentiments. The story unfolds on Shakespeare's terms, with Smyth gently reining in an otherwise unwieldy climax. Apparitions and the afterlife further fuel the symbolic content of the story; the playwright was taken with the supernatural, and Hamlet embodies his affinity in typical eloquence.
"There are more things in heaven and earth," Hamlet declares, "than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Those things are rarely subject to explanation, as illustrated in Ayla Yarkut's befuddled Ophelia. This pitiable figure quickly comes into her own after helping define Hamlet's character. Yarkut intuits these assignments on the cellular level, and her descent into insanity after her own father's death parallels Hamlet's obsessions in superior fashion.
This is the opening production of Lamb's Players' 10th season at its Coronado home, and it's also Smyth's 100th show as a company director. The tributes have rung accordingly and with every reason. Smyth is an outstanding student of the live performance process, steeped in the fibrous wiles and ways of nuance and intent. San Diego's arts environment is the stronger for his efforts; here, he shows why.
This Hamlet is a poised, sensitively orchestrated commentary on vengeance and its diminishing return. And given the dire import of his message, mad Hamlet emerges in many ways as the sanest of the bunch. ©
This review is based on the performance of Feb. 1. Hamlet runs through March 7 at Lamb's Players Theatre. $22-$42. 619-437-0600.