It is with a sense of understandable expectation that the final Guthrie show on Vineland Place happens to be the greatest play ever written (and also the same show that opened the theater in 1963). While that anticipation is naturally difficult to live up to, this production of Hamlet does not come close. Leading director Joe Dowling's cast in the title role is the youngster Santino Fontana, and his work is credible if not exceptional. He ably portrays the prince as youthful, callow, and deeply indecisive--a clever college boy lacking in gravitas. In this fashion, he delivers his character's soliloquies with a soft jazz touch rather than with thundering operatics. The effect is to turn the production's focus toward the exquisite language and multi-textured meanings rather than upon this particular actor. Fair enough, but the supporting cast doesn't pick up the weight. Peter Michael Goetz turns Polonius into an object of broad comic relief--putting the ham in Hamlet--and the younger members of the cast deliver flatly professional performances that fail to provide the ballast that Fontana is missing. Leah Curney as Ophelia is all innocent beauty in the early going, and her physical confrontation with Fontana during Hamlet's crucial semi-repudiation is affecting. But there's little sense of electricity in this crucial relationship. The production is better in the second act than in the dangerously thin first, but on opening night it was hard to shake the feeling that Dowling's interpretation has yet to find its purpose. The play itself is an ever-revelatory metaphor for the project of human existence, and there are times when Fontana is obviously plugging into this. But the emphasis on gloss and craft, combined with hesitant steps toward something more resonant, results in something tepid. As entertainment, it's acceptable. As art, it's wanting.
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