HAMLET (SOLO) by William Shakespeare, adapted by Raoul Bhaneja, directed by Robert Ross Parker (Hope and Hell Theatre). Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to January 21. $13-$18. 416-504-7529. See Listings, page 70, for details. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Holding the fort alone as Hamlet and the rest of the Elsinore gang for two hours is no small task. Raoul Bhaneja easily manages it.
Bhaneja's intention - stated in the program and implied by the bare stage and Robert Ross Parker 's no-frills direction - is to strip away all artifice and recreate a first encounter with the play for the audience, freeing us of the assumptions and expectations that come with familiarity with the work.
Without set, props or even other actors to help him move things along, Bhaneja engages in urgent, energetic storytelling. The athleticism required to memorize and deliver 15,000 words of script is itself exhilarating to watch. That Bhaneja should also embody Gertrude's softness or Claudius's guilty conscience is an added bonus.
Particularly effective are scenes demonstrating Hamlet's psychic undoing, as in the exchange between mother and son in Gertrude's chamber, where Bhaneja expertly navigates between mother, son and paternal ghost with chilling ease.
Expressing Ophelia's innocence by coyly fiddling with the hem of his shirt grows cold quickly, but Bhaneja makes up for it with his intense portrayal of Hamlet Sr.'s ghost, using audible exhalations and an unblinking gaze to convey his wrath.
Although some aspects of the story are presented differently here, we don't understand it better as a result. For one thing, it's hard for us to sustain an emotional connection to the story.
Yet while I've liked other performances better for the way they made me feel, there's none I've liked so much for the way it made me think.