ST. PETERSBURG — Are love of Shakespeare, good intentions and a resourceful approach enough? That is the question about the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Company, making its debut with Hamlet. The answer depends on how tolerant you are of some bad acting.
Shakespeare is all about language, and the amateur cast here doesn't have any distinguished — or, often, even intelligible — speakers of the speeches. Just as damaging, there's not a lot of listening going on between the actors.
Still, on its own terms, this production has a kind of ramshackle charm and integrity, and I didn't see anyone in the audience leaving at intermission during Thursday's opening show, no small thing for such a long night in the theater (the performance, with one intermission, runs more than three hours). Here are a few thoughts:
HOW NOW HAMLET? Benjamin Boucvalt is the melancholy Dane, and at least he brings boyish energy to the role, fretfully running his fingers through his hair as he rushes onstage to launch into "To be or not to be," then flowing right into the scene in which he tells Ophelia (Betty-Jane Parks) to "Get thee to a nunnery." Boucvalt's best rhetorical moment is probably "What a piece of work is a man," in part because he delivers the famous speech downstage, from where it can actually be heard in the Bininger Theater's dim acoustics.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS: The prince and Ophelia are great readers — constantly with a volume of verse or bundle of letters in their hands — and I have no doubt that someone has done an updated version of the play that has them texting away on iPhones or mooning over their Kindles. "What do you read, my lord?" Polonious (Robert Colwell) asks Hamlet. "Words, words, words," he replies.
THREE WHO CAN BE HEARD: As Horatio, the only honest man in Denmark, Ian Gabriel Gonzalez-Muentener does well with his recitation "of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts" at the end. Jean-Paul Gagnon's bearded, long-haired player has a juicy turn with his disquisition on "the mobled queen." Colwell's Polonious is clear in aphorisms like "neither a borrower nor a lender be."
DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY: As Claudius, Michael DuMouchel can't keep his hands off his new wife, Hamlet's mother, Gertrude (Ginger King), so I get that motive for his villainous behavior in dispatching Hamlet's father (Antonio Fabrizio) to ghostly appearances on the castle ramparts. DuMouchel's oily ruler is often inaudible and has the pained appearance of a man suffering indigestion. King speaks brightly, but her grand lady of Elsinore comes across like a suburban matron at the mall.
THE PLAY'S THE THING: Richard Miller's direction has some nice touches, such as the ladder poking out of a hole in the stage for the gravediggers scene. The duel between Hamlet and Laertes (Nicholas J. White) is exciting in Chris Field's fight choreography. Jonathan Robben's set is simple — two sets of stairs flanking the main playing area and leading up to an upstage platform — and the lighting by Sarah Riffle gets the job done. Rebekah Sweet's costumes are vaguely Renaissance in style. Moody music by It Rhymes With Orange is a highlight.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.