HAMLET, First Folio Shakespeare Festival. Straightforward and fast-paced, Alison C. Vesely's earnest open-air staging is an excellent introduction to the Danish tragedy's tale of idealism mired in indecision, corruption, and guilt. Vesely reconfirms the banality of evil as she gently exposes one man's failure to act until he's finally fighting for his life. This production is set in the late Victorian era--costume designer Vicky J. Strei supplies formidable formal wear--and Christopher Jensen's set includes mirrors that reflect the audience, indicting us as the play does Hamlet.
Though Kevin McKillip's giddy mad scenes almost put the "ham" back in Hamlet, eventually he delivers genuine anguish, behaving as if an invisible knife were always at his throat. And he's potently aware of the misogyny in his treatment of Ophelia (a too fragile SerahRose Roth) and his clueless mother (whose heartbreak Paula Scrofano conveys well). It's scary to watch Donald Brearley's Claudius--who accidentally poisons the woman for whom he killed his brother--helplessly watching her die. And Tony Dobrowolski's Polonius is a bloated busybody, to his "own self true" even as he spies on everyone else. It's a play that's full of deceptions, where everything hinges on the word "seems"--and the final slaughter feels like a reality check from hell.