Jungle Theater's 'Hamlet' doesn't lose the story amid modern trappings

Horatio (Paul Rutledge) and Hamlet (Hugh Kennedy) in the Jungle's production of <i>Hamlet</i>.

Horatio (Paul Rutledge) and Hamlet (Hugh Kennedy) in the Jungle's production of Hamlet.

​As my review of Hamlet at the Jungle won't be in the paper until after Labor Day, here are a few preliminary thoughts about the production.

It's a show that was worked on up until the last minute. The traditional public dress rehearsal/preview was canceled, making Friday's premiere likely the first time an audience of outsiders saw the show.

It mostly went off without a hitch. While a careful observer could see occasional drama in all of the scene shifting (Bain Boehlke's set relies on a number of massive columns that are repositioned throughout the show) and the famed poisoned cup at the end broke like a plastic prop, the action onstage had the energy and polish you would expect from the company. (Oh, and Boehlke made a liar out of me. He put the gravedigger scene back in the show, as the photo will attest. Good news for you Yorik fans.)

Boehlke's idea of layering a modern veneer on the story certainly isn't unique (the National Theatre went down a similar path with its latest production). However, it works quite well, especially as he has added enough ancient weight (think back to those massive columns) to keep the original tale front and center, and isn't afraid to just head back to the story when needed. The opening, which used security cameras to show us the ghost of Hamlet's father, was stunning and gave the production the energy to keep moving, even when the plot (Shakespeare had a lot of story on his plate here, along with all the self-doubt, murder, and near incest) threatened to drag the proceedings down.

Hugh Kennedy started slow as Hamlet, but found his way in the middle of the second (of three) acts. Sometimes Hamlet's self-doubt is played as a façade, giving us a character who is one step ahead of the proceedings. Kennedy goes in the opposite direction, giving us a Hamlet who is innocent of the machinations of the court, and who doesn't stand a chance when competing with his uncle/step father Claudius. 
​That's aided by Bradley Greenwald's performance as the usurper, who makes it clear that he is in charge at every moment--except when he is called out, for just a moment, by Hamlet's multimedia play-within-a-play. His lonely confession is one of the real standout moments of the production, and it helps to make Hamlet's soon-to-follow show of mercy make all the more sense. There are shades even in a murderer like Claudius, who is it for Hamlet to go for revenge over justice?


Of course, revenge wins out in the end and it leaves the court piled with corpses and Denmark without its king, queen, or heir. That's good food for thought in our world, which despite our full cell phone coverage and instant access to all of humanity's wisdom, doesn't seem all that much more advanced than the ancient drama that plays out onstage.

Hamlet runs through October 9 at the Jungle Theater.