PICK! ASR Theater ~~ HAMLET – A Production for Our Time

By Susan Dunn

Heads up parents and children, millennials and Shakespeare fans of all ages; Get thee to Marin Shakespeare’s Hamlet! It’s a production for now. Director Jon Tracy wants the relevance and resonance of the many themes of this play to hit us in our solar plexus. Action versus inaction, appearance versus reality, the uncertainty of life, the role of women – just to name a few concepts – are marvelously transparent in this abridged and common English version. And modern dress, laptops, cell phones, songs, dance and recreational drugs bring us into the moment.

A cast of eight actors ably bring home the key elements of Hamlet’s journey from grief and despair at his father’s death, his mother’s remarriage, the oppression of a new stepfather, to his own final moments. Unexpectedly, the play both begins and ends in a pit, with the gravedigger, a sonorous Lady Zen, digging and singing the cycle of life.

…a roller-coaster ride through Hamlet’s brain…

Hamlet’s father as Ghost, and Uncle Claudius as opportunist usurper are smartly played by Michael Torres as two sides of a single personality. The Ghost instills Hamlet with the required outrage to revenge the father’s unfaithful wife and murderous brother. But will Hamlet have the will to act against the uncle?

From left, Rosencrantz (Rinabeth Apostol), Hamlet (Nick Musleh) and Stevie DeMott (Guildenstern) star in Marin Shakespeare Company’s “Hamlet.” Photo by Jay Yamada courtesy Marin IJ.

Nick Musleh’s Hamlet emerges from a shell-shocked and immobilized prince to a thinking man’s demonic theater producer – both in the play within the play and later in his associations with family and court. He is particularly effective in the pseudo-insanity scenes. His sit-down with Polonius, chief counselor and sycophant to Claudius, admirably played by Richard Pallaziol, is a tour-de-force of the wit and speed of youth trampling an aging courtier.

The curved masonry set by Nina Ball is ringed with arches and lights, evoking a palace, royalty and privilege, at least in its heyday. But the edges are visibly deteriorating and we know something is rotten in this state. The furnishings feature a rotating dining-room table on a circular marble floor. Actors moving this table from place to place signal scene changes and heighten various confrontations, both civil and violent. Particularly moving is Hamlet’s struggle against an enraged and smothering Claudius who graphically pins and chokes him on the table top.

Michael Torres is a low-key, fretful and shifty King Claudius. Photo by Jay Yamada, courtesy of Marin IJ.

Women in this production have less to do, reflecting their subservience in the family and in the court. Ophelia is never without her pills that initially sustain and ultimately kill her. And Gertrude exhibits the feminine beauty worth killing for. But she has no powers to help her son, and enables and encourages Ophelia’s ultimate suicide. She is the star in costuming, appearing in a new devastating gown for every scene, showing us the ultimate narcissism a self-indulgent woman can achieve.

This production is a roller-coaster ride through Hamlet’s brain, as he searches for something and someone to value in a corrupt cultural and familial landscape. As one of Shakespeare’s longest and most complex plays, this production helps us to put the many pieces together and rings out a warning for our own times.


Since arriving in California from New York in 1991, Susan Dunn has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager.

An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: susanmdunn@yahoo.com

Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byJon Tracy
Producing CompanyMarin Shakespeare Company
Production DatesThru July 16th
Production AddressForest Meadows Amphitheater (outdoors),
Dominican University of California 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Telephone(415) 499-4485
Tickets$15 – $40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!