What a piece of work is a man

Friday, May 30th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

Our summer tradition: The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions. In 2007, we enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This year brings Hamlet and Hair… and a change to the ticket distribution system. Reserving a seat to these free productions used to involve camping out — sometimes overnight — on the line in front of the Delacorte or Public Theaters for the 1PM ticket distribution, or making a “summer supporter” donation to the Public Theater.  This summer, for the first time, the theater also offered guests the option of joining a “virtual line” — actually, more a lottery — by registering at the Public Theater reservations website and submitting requests for up to two tickets on each performance day.

Online reservations?  That, I can do.  That, in fact, is how we found ourselves at the Delacorte, the first week of the run.

This production marked the SITP’s first Hamlet since 1975, when Sam Waterston held the title role.  33 years later, Waterston settles impressively into an almost sweetly buffoonish Polonius.  Somewhat less successful was Michael Stuhlbarg, who received a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination for 2005’s The Pillowman, as the melancholy (and sometimes manic) Dane.  Rounding out the familiar television faces: Lauren Ambrose (last year’s Juliet) as Ophelia; Emmy winner André Braugher as Claudius; and Margaret Colin (lately of Gossip Girl) as Gertrude.

Of note: an unexpected ending, some amusing costuming (especially in the swapped top/bottom suits of Rosencratz and Guildensten) and the wonderfully creative of play-within-a play, which featured dancing lifesized marionettes.

Reviews were mixed, but this Hamlet at least fared better than the 2000 production at The Public, with Liev Schreiber in the title role, which received one of the most brutal reviews I’ve ever read in New York magazine.

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