Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Prince Hamlet's iPhone
Vortex Theatre
Review by Rob Spiegel

(clockwise, from left): Caroline Graham,
Nicholas Ballas, Aleah Montano, and Grey Blanco

Photo by Christy Lopez
It's a relief to see a production of Hamlet that truly works and is full of natural human life. Oddly, it's an unusual experience. The play is easy to ruin. My personal worst Hamlet is the film version with Mel Gibson. It's almost camp enough to call it an enjoyable mess, but doesn't get quite there. Other misdirected Hamlets suffer from gimmickry, as directors vainly try to find a "new" take on Shakespeare's most popular play. While those can devolve into pure silliness, the dreariest are the productions that treat the material with upmost care, preserving it carefully as literature. This approach is seductive, since Hamlet is literature. Bu the result is typically lifeless and stiff.

So it was quite refreshing to see the production by David Richard Jones now running at the Vortex Theatre. Jones has been directing and teaching Shakespeare in Albuquerque since the early '70s. He launched Will Power, the Vortex's summer Shakespeare festival, and since 2014, he's been the Artistic Director of the Vortex's collaboration with the city of Albuquerque, Shakespeare on the Plaza.

Jones' most noticeable divergence from the usual Elizabethan approach is the use of electronic devices by the millennial characters. Texting, smartphone calls, and video recording the action is the terrain of the younger players in Jones' production, thus clearly delineating them from the older generation who walk around in business attire. Likewise, with the millennial characters' natural clothing and body language. Years of teaching college-age kids clearly came in handy for Jones.

The gadgets are quickly and continually effective in showing the cultural divide between the generations in Hamlet. The Prince himself straddles the generations, displaying both the impulsiveness of youth and the gravity of adulthood. Gray Blanco is well cast in the role. He shows the right petulance, the right insecurity, and the right daring. Most of all, he displays intelligence. That's one quality that has to be cast; intelligence can't be directed.

Another solid decision is to present Claudius (Nicholas Ballas) as superficially well-mannered and somewhat charismatic. Claudius is too often shown as a brute, but it would take manipulation of a high order to convince a distressed widow to quickly remarry, especially for the brother of a deceased king. You can't bully your way in; it requires seduction. Ballas delivers this with excellence.

Casting Caroline Graham as Ophelia is another wise decision. She delivers the delicate balance between flaky and substantial. You can see Hamlet underestimate her and you can also see the reasons behind his attraction. Jones directs the body language between the two actors to show Hamlet's tension between attraction and fear, with the fear getting played out as disgust. Yet the natural intimacy between the two is also clear. Nice going. This is the first time I really "got" Ophelia. I'm still not sure I see the seeds of potential suicide in her character, but even so, Ophelia seemed real to me for the first time.

The stage is simple, which works fine. The gorgeous language is given great care without it seeming museum-like. The "to be or not to be" soliloquy is thankfully downplayed. Nice to see it presented on equal footing with all the other speeches and not delivered as a GREAT MOMENT. There are a few times that Blanco rushes Hamlet's words, but that may be part of the decision to de-stage-ify the play. If so, it's a worthy trade-off. The swordfight between Hamlet and Laertes is particularly wonderful.

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew. Good work by Jones in showing the beating heart of the Prince of Denmark.

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare and directed by David Richard Jones, will run at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 NE, through February 7, 2016. The show starts at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. General admission tickets are $22, $19 for ATG or TLC members, and $15 for students. You can buy tickets online at or by phone at 247-8600.

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