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Weekend Preview May 19-24
Bob Dylan tributes, Deborah Voigt, Tom Paxton, Bill Kirchen, John Kirk and Trish Miller

Celebrating Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday in Style
Paying tribute to the greatest rock songwriter ever

FILM REVIEW: In a Better World and Of Gods and Men
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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Deborah Voigt Headlines Mahaiwe Gala
Opera star to sing arias, show tunes on Saturday, May 21

Famed Spiritual Teacher to Speak on Nonviolence
Mother Maya in free talk at Sruti Yoga in Great Barrington, Mass., on Friday May 20 at 7pm

Special Effects Wizard to Be Honored by Film Festival
Doug Trumbull to be Feted by BIFF

Weekend Preview May 12-16
Cultural Highlights of the Berkshire Weekend

Talk about a small world
Elaine and I grew up together, but only just recently met....

Berkshire Living to Cease Publication
A Farewell from Publisher Michael Zivyak

twiGs Branches Out
Lenox boutique launches new e-tail site

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy

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directed by Eleanor Holdridge
Runs through August 27
Founders' Theatre

Jason Asprey -Hamlet
Dennis Krausnick - Polonius
Tina Packer - Queen Gertrude
Elizabeth Raetz - Ophelia

by SETH ROGOVOY, critic-at-large, BERKSHIRE LIVING magazine

(Lenox, Mass., July 24, 2006) -- Put it plain and simple: this is Shakespeare at his best, and Shakespeare & Company at its best.

While the season is not quite half over, this HAMLET is likely to remembered as one of the highlights, or even the hit, of the entire season, and not only at this theater company but at every company and every performing arts venue.

Forget everything you've read anywhere else or heard: Eleanor Holdridge has conceived -- or reconceived?? -- a brilliant HAMLET for our time, and gathered a terrific acting ensemble and technical crew to pull of a gripping, theatrical roller-coaster ride.

In Holdridge's SOPRANOS, M. Night Shyamalan meets the SOPRANOS -- this is an edge-of-your-seat ghost story -- a horror film, really -- in which the main characters look and behave like noveaux-riche gangsters. When a foreign army invades, it's like David Cronenberg sent extras from A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE into someone else's movie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

In this day and age, there's no point staging a period HAMLET in costume that hews strictly to the text. Holdridge imaginatively puts the action into HAMLET's brain, probably at the moment near death, when synapses fire and misfire and memory floods through his mind of how this awful, bloody mess happened.

Along the way, we are treated to a wealth of fascinating characterizations: Dennis Krausnick's befuddled Polonius, Tina Packer's almost ditzy Gertrude (think Mrs. Tony Soprano), Elizabeth Raetz's nutty Ophelia (weak in Act One but totally on the mark in Act Two), and, perhaps my favorite and new to Shakespeare & Co., Nigel Gore's Claudius, played like Ben Kingsely in SEXY BEAST: oily, sleazy, clever, deceitful, but very suave.

And then, of course, there is Jason Asprey, tackling the most impossible role in all of theater, the title role, and utterly and totally acquitting himself. No one to my knowledge has ever quite figured out just what's going on with HAMLET and why he does the things he does, but Asprey finds his way deep enough into the character, and has the physical and thespian tools needed to pull it off through a combination of playing it straight but also scheming all the while. He also doesn't ham up his HAMLET, and if I weren't so obsessed with the actor to begin with and therefore not trustful of my judgment, I'd swear he was channeling just a bit of Al Pacino in his characterization, which would fit in just fine with Nigel Gore's Claudius as James Gandolfini.

Rosencrantz (Tom Wells) and Guildenstern (Kenajuan Bentley) offer just the right bit of Laurel and Hardy/Abbott and Costello-derived comic relief in a play that breezes by in the wink of an eye -- partly because the dialogue is snappy and breezy, but also because it's played for comedy and action. This may be a tragedy, but in Holdridge's hands, it's mostly a dramatic entertainment, made all the more so by inventive use of lighting, costumes, and especially sound design.

Another brilliant touch was having John Windsor-Cunningham playing the multiple roles of Hamlet's father (the Ghost), the Player King, and the Gravedigger, rendering the whole thing even more of a WIZARD OF OZ-like, "it was all just a dream/nightmare"-like quality.

All the hype about the Oedipal overtones of the Packer/Asprey/Krausnick trio is just that -- it might have helped with the marketing of this play (for which tickets are reportedly hard to come by) -- so much hype. Unless you sit there thinking about it, nothing much is made of it, nor should much be made of it. It undoubtedly helped the actors in putting their roles together, but they have made it seamless and organic to their characters.

Brilliant, funny, exciting -- and did I say brilliant?

--by SETH ROGOVOY, critic-at-large, BERKSHIRE LIVING magazine

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