This Hamlet is a tempestuous teen

Mary Tuomanen as Hamlet in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre production. The news is not that a female plays the part, but that Hamlet is portrayed as such an impulsive youth. Some prefer a more thoughtful characterization.
Mary Tuomanen as Hamlet in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre production. The news is not that a female plays the part, but that Hamlet is portrayed as such an impulsive youth. Some prefer a more thoughtful characterization.
Posted: March 26, 2011

In one of Hamlet's famous speeches, our Prince of Denmark summons actors and famously tells them to speak "trippingly on the tongue" - then offers a pointer or two. In their "torrent, tempest and . . . whirlwind" of passion, Hamlet says, they must employ "a temperance that may give it smoothness."

In an otherwise nicely edited Hamlet that opened Thursday at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, the tripping-tongue speech is cut, which is bad on two counts: It's iconic, and it's also good advice for this particular production.

The news here is not that a talented woman named Mary Tuomanen plays Hamlet - she does so with an androgynous look and the air of a guy in pain and torment, and she clearly has the chops for the role. The news is that Hamlet is now an impetuous, impulsive teenager, more like a high school kid than the college boy he's supposed to be.

Tuomanen gives him a giddiness, too - this Hamlet's mouth moves several times into a gotcha! oval of kid surprise, at which times the words crash together with the urgency of one teen uncovering the he-said/she-said dirt about another.

Carmen Khan, the Shakespeare Theatre artistic director who staged this Hamlet, may not give us the thoughtful guy, laden with sorrows, who is trying to avenge his father's murder by an uncle who's not only taken the throne of Denmark, but taken Hamlet's mother for his wife. Who wouldn't act out?

But for me, the most satisfying Hamlets are those who think through their moves, whose minds you see turning there on the stage, with the mulling-over words Shakespeare supplied for such mechanics.

To be fair, no challenge to Tuomanen's interpretation would be complete without mentioning that Brits - tough on their Shakespeare productions - have lately liked their Hamlets rash and volatile. A few seasons back they applauded Jude Law's interpretation, not so different from Tuomanen's but with a slightly lower voice; when Law delivered that portrayal on Broadway, Americans were less enthusiastic.

So call me an American bore on Hamlet - but don't call me bored with the Philadelphia Shakespeare production, which moves nicely and has a particularly fine set of actors - Ames Adamson and Amanda Grove - playing the roles of Hamlet's uncle and mom with regal panache.

Victoria Rose Bonito is pathetic as Ophelia (that's a compliment), John Little is properly authoritarian as her dad, Polonius, and Jason Greenfield is genuine as Laertes, who becomes Hamlet's enemy. The production plays to mood-setting interludes of chords on a stage with a little reflecting pool. It may not reflect the sort of Hamlet that fulfills me, but Tuomanen does carry her interpretation solidly through the play and knows the sort of Hamlet she's after.


Hamlet

Through May 14 at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. Tickets: $25-$35. Information: 215-496-8001 or www.phillyshakespeare.org.

Hamlet will run in repertory with As You Like It when that play opens April 7.


Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro.

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