“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare tells us – and director Blanka Zizka seems to take it literally. Her busy, incohesive production of Hamlet includes multiple playing areas – the large stage itself; plus a proscenium arch at the back, and a circular platform in the middle. (There’s also what looks like ET’s spaceship hanging overhead, but never mind.)
And that’s just the beginning. We have enough fragmentary ideas here for a dozen Hamlets. One is an edgy, modern concept version, with graffiti-covered walls. A moment later, the show looks like a 1940s Joan Crawford melodrama. A lot of jerky, stilted poses might be channeled from a Pina Bausch ballet. (The costumes — a hodge-podge of periods and styles – are a clear sign of the problem. Only Hamlet himself looks like he isn’t a walking jumble sale.)
With all this going on, a number of individual moments are striking, but they don’t add up. Often, I felt like I was looking at Zizka’s Pinterest page for Hamlet – lots of intriguing bits and pieces, not a finished product. There’s altogether too much archness and artifice, which rob the show of momentum and, more critically, a sense of conversational flow. Some good actors in important roles are undercut by all the stagey trappings.
It’s a shame, because the most daring production choice – casting an actress in the role of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – pays off handsomely. Zainab Jah looks convincingly androgynous, has a marvelously expressive face and voice, and imbues her many speeches with radiant intelligence. I’ve seen some Hamlets who found more variety and slyness in the role, but Jah is excellent.
A few other performances stand out, too. Steven Rishard is a sexily thuggish Claudius, and Keith Conallen and Jered McLenigan are delightful as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – this is good news for the Wilma’s next production, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in which they are featured.
Through November 10, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., 215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org