Sand, firelight, and pools of water lend natural ambience to the Theatre de le Jeune Lune's staging of Hamlet. Yet the dominant note of the Minneapolis-based troupe is one of strained artificiality. The story has been condensed to focus on family (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been expunged along with politics and philosophy). But don't expect the actors to mine their characters' childhood bugaboos. Paddy Hayter's direction keeps the action moving at Macbeth-like velocity, leaving little time for genuine introspection. Not that this seems to bother Steven Epp, who takes a sputteringly clownish approach to the melancholy Dane. His Hamlet doesn't so much adopt an antic disposition as borrow a fool's motley. The supporting male players follow suit. Luverne Seifert, in a gargantuan white collar and skullcap, transforms Polonius into a pedantic sight gag, while Vincent Gracieux's Claudius seems a near cousin to Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther. Tuning out the surrounding high jinks, Sarah Agnew brings an unforced poignancy to the doomed Ophelia. But it's the masked mummers silently arranging the scenes who offer the most truthful performances in a production that strives for theatricality but achieves mainly corny contrivance.
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