Expert director, well-tuned cast turn in impressive take on 'Hamlet' 

If you are in the mood for tragedy, hie thyself down to the Myriad Gardens Water Stage for Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's production of "Hamlet," which is notably well-directed by Steve Knight. Even if you're not in a dark mood, hie thyself anyway.

Knight is as expert an interpreter of Shakespeare as you will find this side of, if not Stratford-upon-Avon, then Stratford, Okla. He brings together performers, designers and technicians to create productions of Shakespeare's plays that are remarkable in clarity and artistic integrity. His actors employ a more or less modern acting style, and his staging contains every element needed to tell the story without superfluousness. Casts and crews must enjoy working with him, because they always seem to be on board with his ideas.

This concerted effort is more impressive when you consider that Knight's ideas about staging Shakespeare are not always conventional. He often introduces anachronisms, such as Horatio's flashlight, in this production. In one scene, Ophelia gives her brother, Laertes, a playful kick in the rear. In another, Hamlet embraces the ghost of his father "? a corporeal specter, indeed. Knight has carefully edited the script, combining Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy with an earlier one, for example.

But most impressive is how Knight gets actors to work for him. Proficient at casting, he has effectively matched actor to role in this production, beginning with his Hamlet.

One might feel dread upon hearing that a young actor such as Paul Stuart will play the Dane, perhaps the most high-profile role in Western drama. Don't worry about Stuart; he's excellent. When the play begins, Hamlet does not know that his father was murdered by his uncle, Claudius (D. Lance Marsh), who then married his mother, Gertrude (Kris Todd), which would have been considered incest in Elizabethan England. When the ghost of his father reveals how he died, Hamlet is stricken by the news, but Stuart maintains complete control as Hamlet deals with the tragedy. His Hamlet keeps his wits about him as he survives attempts on his life and takes revenge "? but at great cost.

In addition to the above actors, fine performances are turned in by Carly McGehee as Ophelia and Quinn Gasaway as Horatio, who speaks the last line of the play in effective, although not original, directorial editing by Knight. Hal Kohlman makes an imposing ghost, and Dave Pasto is a punctilious Polonius. Also notable are Christopher Curtis as the gravedigger and Lane Flores as Osric.

Knight always gives careful consideration to costuming, designed for this production by Robert A. Pittenridge. The costumes are mostly classical-looking, but would not seem out of place in a "Star Wars" episode, either. In one scene, Gertrude wears a frilly cocktail dress. The costumes for the players who present "The Murder of Gonzago," which causes Claudius to expose himself as the murderer of Hamlet's father, are flashes of color in Pittenridge's dark, brooding palette.

Hamlet stages at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 22 presented by Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park at Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 100 Myriad Gardens.

"?Larry Laneer

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