It requires nearly as much guts as talent to take a solid whack at "Hamlet," and the folks at the Annapolis Company Theater in residence at St. John's College have pretty fair amounts of both.
Director Nathan Rosen has rejected the prevailing Freudian view that has Shakespeare's melancholy prince mulling over suicide, regicide and matricide as a result of an Oedipal crisis provoked by his mother's hasty marriage to Hamlet's uncle just after the death of his father.
Instead of a melancholy, moping Hamlet, Mr. Rosen and actor Aaron Finkelstein have given us a Hamlet full of the anger of a young theology student driven by an all-consuming desire to see earthly justice done in the here-and-now.
It's the intense conflict between judgment on Earth and God's ultimate judgment that's eating away at this incarnation of the Danish prince.
Director Rosen has framed this philosophical discussion in a setting that features a lights-up atmosphere, scenes that take place in aisles and on balconies, and close interaction between actors and audience.
Dress is modern, and, aside from swords and poor Yorick's skull, don't get much in the way of scenery or props.
Does it work? Yes, with one notable exception. When Shakespearean poetry is presented as tautly paced conversation by amateur actors, it often fails to resonate in the ear. At St. John's, the opening scenes tend to rush by like the windows of a passing train.
Kristiana Knight is a wonderful Ophelia once she goes mad, but in her "lucid" Act I moments, I couldn't understand a word she was saying.
But save for excessive speed and a ghost less menacing than Casper, the acting was admirable indeed.
Aaron Finkelstein is absorbingly intense in the title role. Other standouts include Craig Bradshaw as a suitably smarmy Claudius, Sandra Gwynn as a regal Gertrude, John Michael MacDonald as a magnificent Laertes, Allison Prouty as a charming "First Player" and young George Bunker as a touchingly humane Horatio.
Special kudos go to the aforementioned Ms. Knight, once she loses her marbles, and to the hilarious Greg Coales, who brings many a yuk to Elsinore as the platitudinous Polonius.
But the real star of the show is the Bard, himself, who somehow kept gems cascading through these many speeches, soliloquies and chats with nary a pause. "Alas, poor Yorick." "To thine own self be true." "To be, or not to be." "What a piece of work is man!" "Brevity is the soul of wit."
Heck, it's worth seeing "Hamlet" once in a while just to remind ourselves of the source of the poetry that defines our humanity.
"Hamlet" will be performed at the Great Hall of St. John's Colleg in Annapolis Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 30. Ticket information: 268- 2793.