There’s a whole lot of Hamlet hitting Vegas stages this fall — and Table 8 Productions’ pared-down version at the Onyx is going to be a pretty tough act to follow. Whatever motivated this cast (maybe their own possible dysfunctional family dramas?), their relentless and intermission-less performance was filled with fierce physicality and raw emotion, making it one of the most passionate I’ve seen in a while.
According to the playbill, this Hamlet is set in a time “not long ago,” which I’ll place somewhere in the ’80s, judging from the gown Queen Gertrude (Kim Glover) clearly swiped from a Dynasty set, the “mixed tape” love letter that Hamlet hands over to Ophelia (Ashley Bufkin) and the play’s overall lush, prime-time soap opera aesthetic.
Geo Nikols is commanding in the title role, offering a timeless understanding of the emotional turmoil plaguing Denmark’s most famous fictional prince. His anger and torment flips on a dime to manifest in dark humor and a devil-can-care attitude that truly terrifies. His fight scenes, both those involving swords and choreography by Sean Critchfield, and those involving fists and words — are the real deal. Perhaps even more powerful are the moments he engaged the audience, even becoming part of the audience, and enveloping us in his anguish.
Ronn L. Williams Jr. is a force to be reckoned with as both treacherous Claudius and the ethereal Ghost. And as Laertes, Brandon Alan McClenahan, if you’re reading this, you made my boyfriend cry in the final scenes — for real — after making us laugh as the swindling, goofy Guildenstern.
The sporadic use of background instrumental music straight out of Terms of Endearment elevates traditionally tragic scenes into something akin to melodramatic comedy — which is perhaps the point — but was at times distracting, nonetheless.
Troy Heard’s other directorial choices, such as casting the players in multiple roles and even the ambitious “high art” film version of the famous “play within a play” — despite the latter being a bit puzzling in execution — adds up to a truly unique vision.
For those of us who write about theater because we love it, watching a strong production can make you feel downright jealous of those onstage. With that in mind, I gotta give a nod to former CityLife stage critic David McKee for his triumphant return to acting — a mere 28 years after his last onstage role. Welcome back, David. You serve Polonius well, granting a likable, Father Knows Best TV sitcom dad sensibility to the role, and are to thine own self true.