September 21, 2014
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Theatre Review
Gamm does ‘Hamlet’ proud
Don Fowler
Peter Goldberg
Gillian Williams (Ophelia), Kelby T. Akin (Laertes) and Jeanine Kane (Gertrude) in background.

Get thee to Gamm Theatre, where “Hamlet” reigns as one of the best Shakespearean productions you will ever see.

Was there another great production?

I found my 1997 review titled “Alias Stage does ‘Hamlet’ proud” (Gamm is now Alias Stage), where Tony Estrella, a young Trinity Conservatory graduate, made a “strong, sympathetic Hamlet. He’s back, along with his original director, Fred Sullivan Jr., and his original Polonius, Sam Babbitt in a production that is as good as it gets.

Beginning with Patrick Lynch’s four-tiered, red-curtained set, Matthew Terry’s exquisite lighting and Marilyn Salvatore’s extensive and beautiful costumes, this is a “Hamlet” for the ages.

Estrella is right up there with the best of them, giving us a passionate, gut-wrenching performance that will leave you breathless. His soliloquies are articulate and spellbinding. His transformation is completely believable. He is Hamlet.

While there is no question that Estrella is the commanding force, credit must be given to the terrific cast that director Sullivan has assembled.

What more can be said about Sam Babbitt? Admittedly, he has the best and funniest lines. It is how he delivers them that make this production so great. He plays with Shakespeare’s words at every turn, speaking occasionally to his audience and earning sustained laughter with his expressive countenance.

Jeanine Kane’s Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and Steve Kidd’s Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, are both right on the mark. I didn’t see a credit for makeup, but someone did an incredible job. Kane, with her white hair and fair skin, could win a Miss Senior Rhode Island contest at her young age.

You know the play: Hamlet’s dead father (Tom Gleadow in one of three roles) appears to him with the information that Claudius has murdered him and married his mother to become the new king of Denmark. Hamlet is despondent, mad with the grief that embraces him and determined for revenge.

My favorite scene occurs after intermission, when a group of traveling players “speak the speech I pray you, as I pronounced it to you,” one of Estrella’s mesmerizing moments. Sullivan has directed a terrific closing scene, complete with a fencing contest choreographed by the best-Normand Beauregard.

“Hamlet” probably has more memorable lines than any play ever written (Frailty, thy name is woman/To thine own self be true/ To be or not to be…to name but a few.) Shakespeare’s words have been murdered by many an amateur acting company. Don’t miss this production to experience the way they should be spoken.

Space does not allow the mention of the entire cast, but I must mention Gillian Williams for her moving performance as Ophelia and Vince Petronio for his ability to adopt to six costume changes and smoothly assume a variety of characters. The same can be said about Gleadow, who switches from a ghost to a bad actor to a gravedigger, excelling in all roles.

Gamm’s “Hamlet” should make everyone proud of the talent we have in Rhode Island. Sullivan made excellent choices in assembling this cast and crew. It will make for a truly perfect evening of theatre. Don’t miss it.

“Hamlet” is at Gamm1. 72 Exchange St. in Pawtucket, through Dec. 11. Tickets are $34 and $42. Call 723-4266 for reservations.


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