Theater review by Jenna Scherer. Access Theater (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Dir. Eric Tucker. With Tucker, Ted Lewis, Andrus Nichols, Tom O’Keefe. 3hrs 30mins. Two intermissions.
The lotsa-roles-coupla-actors thing is often little more than a gimmick—a low-cost excuse for performers to show off their prowess at quick changes and caricature. Not so with the troupe Bedlam’s Hamlet, which uses the formal limitations of only four performers as a jumping-off point for an engaging, highly physical production of Shakespeare’s complex masterpiece that feels as raw and incestuous as the state of Denmark itself.
At the center of the whirlwind is Eric Tucker’s seething, manic Hamlet, an angry, blustering man who hurls furniture at Ophelia and practically growls when he lays into Claudius. Both as an actor and a director, Tucker keeps everyone thrillingly off-balance, and that includes the audience: After each of two intermissions, seats and stage are rearranged, and the entire terrain of the theater shifts. A chunk of Act III plays out as a sort of game of musical chairs; and by Act V, the grave is visibly yawning in the middle of the playing space, eager for the inevitable bloodbath. The remaining 20-plus roles are divided among Ted Lewis, Andrus Nichols and Tom O’Keefe, who transition effortlessly between characters. Polonius, giving his son a lecture, becomes Laertes, receiving it; Claudius and Gertrude quit making out just long enough to morph into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
The actors speak so quickly through all of this—trippingly, to use Hamlet’s word—that at first it seems like they’re glossing over the Bard’s densely packed language. But there’s a fiendish precision behind the speed; hits land as swiftly and directly as sword blows. And fortunately for Bedlam’s tireless performers, Hamlet is a self-cleaning oven: By the end, there aren’t even four characters left.—Jenna Scherer