When Tess Burgler, as Hamlet, wildly throws herself into Ophelia's grave to fight with Ryan Zarecki's Laertes, the moment feels so realistic on the Ohio Shakespeare Festival stage, we fear for Laertes' life.

This brawl is one of the most exciting moments in the company's production of "Hamlet," Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, at Stan Hywet. Burgler's Hamlet ends up with a bloodied nose and the two young men have to be pulled apart after they emerge from the grave, created by trap doors in the stage floor.

The moment speaks to two of the greatest hallmarks of Akron's classical theater company: its fine acting and great stage fighting.

And yes, Burgler, a woman, is playing the prince of Denmark. The role has not been regendered: She is playing Hamlet as written. 

Burgler, as lithe and athletic onstage as ever, doesn't have to alter her voice or add any swagger to pull off her characterization as Hamlet. As we become engrossed in her characterization, she proves that great acting — not gender — is what it takes to play the prince, who despairs his father's murder but is plagued by inaction for most of the play in his desire to exact revenge.

In Burgler's hands, Hamlet is alternately depressed, sarcastic and bloodthirsty, as befits a young prince carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!" Hamlet says after learning about the true nature of his father's death.

After Hamlet declares that he'll assume an antic disposition to ensnare his father's murderer, Burgler artfully brings out the varied ways that Hamlet manipulates others through wordplay. That ranges from the way he exposes Polonius' sycophantic foolishness by talking about the animal shapes of clouds to the bawdy way he toys with Ophelia verbally. 

Tess Burgler is ably directed by her father, Terry Burgler, amid a cast of 25 players. They include Lara Mielcarek as Queen Gertrude, too placated in her recent marriage to her former brother-in-law; and Andrew Gorell as that dangerous King Claudius, who seems to have no conscience until he realizes that Hamlet is onto his terrible deeds.

Trevor Buda cuts a sympathetic character as Horatio, Hamlet's steadfast friend, and Zarecki is charismatic as Laertes, Ophelia's brother. Scott Shriner also mines all the humor in his busybody, advice-dispensing character Polonius.

Amanda Vigneault creates a disturbing character as Ophelia — wrapped in flower garlands and driven to madness after her father's death — with the odd cocking of her head, her vacant looks and eerie singing. David McNees is also chilling as the Ghost, Hamlet's doomed father, with his gray face and frightening wheezing that sounds like a death rattle.

In this tragedy, a couple of early deaths are followed by a multiplied body count in the final scene. This famous scene of treachery, couched in a fencing match, has some of the most memorable stage fighting I've seen on the Ohio Shakespeare Festival boards. That's thanks to great training by fight director Zarecki and a professional cast that's thoroughly committed to its craft.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj