Six decades ago, Laurence Olivier got a lot of criticism for removing the relatively minor characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from his famous film adaptation of “Hamlet.” Yet actor-writer-director Austin Pendleton goes a lot further than that in his new production of the play at Classic Stage Company with Peter Sarsgaard, Stephen Spinella, Penelope Allen and Harris Yulin.
Pendleton removed Hamlet’s ghostly father, one of the tragedy’s key characters, who divulges to Hamlet the circumstances of his murder. The entire scene is gone. Instead, Hamlet simply walks offstage for a few seconds and returns, all changed and ready to avenge his father’s most foul murder.
Those who don’t know the play would surely be confused, but even those who do know it will still be confounded by this strange production, which takes place in a sort of dreamscape. The abstract concept is intriguing at first, but it fails to pay off.
The set design evokes the recent wedding of Hamlet’s mother to his uncle. A round banquet table dominates the stage, full of bottles of wine, with a large wedding cake next to it.
Characters often stick around, even when they’re not technically part of a scene, for no apparent reason. For instance, Ophelia often sits there silently as Hamlet rhapsodizes about his melancholy.
Sarsgaard, wearing a flashy collar shirt, looks like he is about to go clubbing. He plays Hamlet like a whiny spoiled brat. Why should the audience care when Hamlet is so unsympathetic?
Spinella makes for a comically uptight Polonius, and Allen is quite harrowing as Gertrude. The bed chamber scene between her and Sarsgaard is probably the best part of the production. Yulin is an unusually reserved and inactive Claudius, not much of an antagonist.
If you go: “Hamlet” plays through May 10 at Classic Stage. 136 E. 13th St., classicstage.org.