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Queens Chronicle

Titan closes its 10th year with The Bard’s best

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2019 10:30 am

Titan Theatre Co.’s current production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” running at Queens Theatre through April 14, is so modern it borders on the futuristic.

How accepting one is of the approach that has been taken by director Lenny Banovez, adaptor Jack Young and company is a matter of personal choice. The sold-out crowd at last Friday night’s opening seemed to go for it, evidenced by an instantaneous standing ovation at the play’s conclusion.

From the crackling sounds that kick this most unusual rendering into high gear to the final blackout that (Does this play warrant a spoiler alert?) leaves many of the leading characters lifeless on the floor of the playing area, there isn’t a dull moment in this nearly three-hour interpretation of what is generally considered The Bard’s greatest work.

Over the past 10 years of its existence as a theater company, Titan has developed a reputation for breathing new life and clarity into classical works of theater, often by condensing a play into 90 or so compact minutes. In this case, the trimming is less extensive, but the result feels equally tight and powerful. And we get to hear, in their original context, a veritable hit parade of many of the beautiful phrases that have become part of everyday vernacular: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” “To thine own self be true,” “Brevity is the soul of wit,” “What a piece of work is man,” and, of course, the opening line of the world’s most recognizable soliloquy, “To be or not to be — that is the question.”

“Hamlet” was the closing play of Titan’s inaugural season, so it seems fitting for it to, once again, serve in the same capacity in this special anniversary year.

Making it particularly interesting is the casting of a female, the formidable actress Laura Frye, a founding member of the company, in the monumental title role. Such gender-blind casting seems to be happening more and more frequently as of late (Glenda Jackson is appearing on Broadway at the moment as King Lear), though Titan has long been an advocate of diversity and equality in casting.

Frye was already well acquainted with the play, having appeared as the tragic Ophelia, potential wife of Hamlet, in the group’s earlier production.

For those not as well versed, the play surrounds Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, who has fallen into a state of melancholia following the death of his father, the king. Further disturbing him, his uncle, Claudius, soon assumes the throne and marries his mother, Gertrude. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, accusing Claudius of murdering him and demanding revenge. To disguise his intentions, Hamlet feigns madness. Beset by doubts, Hamlet sets a plan in motion that, ultimately, leads to tragedy.

The play encompasses a great number of themes, among them revenge, greed, love, death, deception, justice, the handling of grief, mental illness and suicide. It is not a play for the faint of heart.

Frye, also celebrating 10 years with Titan, shows a deep understanding of the complex character, revealing layer upon layer of his personality, his every thought etched upon her face. At times delivering her lines so softly they are barely audible — particularly in that soliloquy — she can turn on a dime and unleash a raging diatribe with total abandon. She, as well as many of her fellow players, often has a quirky line delivery that makes the play, in the midst of its seriousness, more laugh-filled than usual.

A side note: Frye, in her current guise, looks astonishingly like Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who might do well to pay a visit to the theater if she ever had a desire to find her doppelganger.

Frye is given strong support. Titan mainstay Michael Selkirk makes for a sturdy Claudius, conniving and corrupt, and particularly powerful in a confessional monologue. Equally memorable is Annalisa Loeffler as a regal if weak-willed Gertrude, who has a turbulent relationship with her son. A confrontation between her and Frye is a dramatic highlight.

Making an auspicious Titan debut is Laura Menzie as the young and innocent Ophelia, bringing an appropriate poignancy to her descent into madness. Robert Meksin, another newcomer to the Titan stage, is the pompous Polonius, finding more laughs than might have been anticipated.

As for the modern trappings, they tend to distract more than enhance the proceedings. A series of eight adjustable video screens are the focal point of the backdrop, flashing ever-changing scenes that tend to upstage the actors. It is here where the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, and the effect is appropriately eerie. Contemporary dress and the use of various anachronistic props, though not everyone’s cup of tea, are in keeping with the director’s vision.

As has been the case in the past with Titan productions, performances are quickly selling out, so reserving tickets now is strongly advised.

‘Hamlet’
 
When: Fri.-Sat., April 5-6; Thu.-Sat., April 11-13, 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., April 13-14, 4 p.m.
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave. South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Tickets: $20. (718) 760-0064,

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