TAMPA — Jack Holloway is a Tampa Bay actor who has done quite a lot of interesting work, from children's theater to a rough and tumble portrayal of the three sons in Caryl Churchill's gritty A Number to his duties as artistic director of Hat Trick Theatre. Now he is playing the definitive role for any actor, Hamlet, and his performance pulls you inside the head of an idealist undone by the treachery around him.
"Vengeance!" Holloway's barefoot Dane howls, plunging a dagger into the stage, raging at the new king Claudius and his consort (and Hamlet's mother) Gertrude. His hands claw the air, as he sweats and pants like a man trying to hoist a heavy weight. Later, sinking into an eerie calm, he asks the famous question "To be or not to be" under a blood red light.
Holloway is a fine, manic-depressive prince, who brings tremendous energy and conviction, along with a certain necessary feral cunning, to his titanic task.
This Tampa Repertory Theatre and Hat Trick coproduction is done on a shoestring, but director C. David Frankel knows his Shakespeare and has marshalled a very credible account of the tragedy. Mostly traditional in approach, it has a bracing touch of post-modern deconstruction in the beginning, with an unseen stage manager delivering instructions ("Sound cue one ... go") for the wind whistling across the ramparts of spooky Elsinore. Hamlet comes loaded with cultural baggage, but it is first and foremost a ghost story.
The cast supporting Holloway includes an excellent mix of veteran and youthful players, many in multiple roles. Ned Averill-Snell brings pungent vocal heft, as well as the hint of an Irish brogue, to Claudius, and Robin Gordon's Gertrude is clearly smitten by her new husband. They look like country club royalty. Jim Wicker plays the grizzled ghost of Hamlet's father with a Piedmont drawl, while also pitching in as the Player King and the graveyard sexton who digs up poor Yorick's skull. Steve Mountan is a wonderfully theatrical old Polonius.
Emily Belvo as Ophelia makes a convincing transition from girlish charm to pathetic insanity, and she is also a spunky Osric. As Laertes, Jonathan Cho has a vicious swordfight with Holloway's melancholy one. The composed performance of Caitlin Eason as upstanding Horatio is a highlight. Rodner Salgado is a well-projected Marcellus, along with other roles. Gi Y. Sung and Adam D. Crain are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively, as well as three other characters apiece.
The bare-bones scenic design by Bridgette Dreher mainly consists of a low wall and chairs that the actors arrange in configurations that seem meaningful. Cody K. Lorich's costumes range from Hamlet's baggy vested suit to the Elizabethan jerkin of Polonius. Running within hailing distance of four hours, Hamlet is a long haul, and the audience thinned out after intermission last Thursday.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.