HAMLET, by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Ziegler, with Paul Gross, Benedict Campbell, Marion Day, Domini Blythe, Jerry Franken, Graham Abbey and Juan Chioran. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to November 5. $38.50-$67.50. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNN
Even out of his Due South Mountie uniform, Paul Gross gets his man -- at Stratford bagging the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
In director Joseph Ziegler's clear, leisurely reading of the text, Gross creates a complex character with wit, fire, emotion and a sense of relishing his "acting" on the stage. If there's any problem in his performance, it's a delivery style that tends to break lines in the middle, creating a predictable if not quite singsong speech pattern.
Too bad most of the figures around him don't come up to Gross's level, instead seeming to vie for blandness. Marion Day's Ophelia lacks feeling, while Benedict Campbell's Claudius and Jerry Franken's Polonius make little attempt at being evil, manipulative or corrupt.
Strong figure Gross's best fellow player is Domini Blythe as Gertrude, a strong figure who makes the cabinet scene between mother and son the best exchange in the production. Lots of other episodes need the electricity that crackles here.
The other memorable performer is Juan Chioran, who gives a surprising but clever link throughout the show by playing the ghost of Hamlet's father, an impassioned Player King and the gravedigger. Both Hamlet and Claudius do double takes when they notice resemblances between the other two characters and Denmark's late ruler.
By the end, the long production loses focus and dramatic energy, and the fifth act races along without the climactic feel it should have. Even the duel between Hamlet and Laertes that leads to all those bodies littering the stage is perfunctory.