Michael Stuhlbarg gives a surprisingly hammy performance in Oskar Eustis' badly directed version of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy.
Indeed, Stuhlbarg speaks just about every line as untrippingly as he could; saws the air so often that were there actual wood on the stage he could have stacked enough to build a log cabin; and consistently stamps his right foot as if he were not a young man devastated at his father's murder but a five-year-old throwing a tantrum over being denied a cookie.
However, when a usually superlative actor like Stuhlbarg is so off the mark and when other traditionally first-rate performers -- including Sam Waterston as Polonius, Andre Braugher as Claudius, Margaret Colin as Gertrude, David Harbour as Laertes, and Jay O. Saunders in three roles -- are uniformly awkward and excessive, the unifying problem looks suspiciously like Oskar Eustis' direction. Only Lauren Ambrose, a treat last year as Juliet, keeps her integrity intact and manages to deliver a touching and altogether real Ophelia.
Taking his cue from the words "battlement" and "sterile promontory" in the script, Eustis unfolds the action around a downstage eternal flame meant to commemorate the elder Hamlet and in front of David Korins' metal set, what looks like both a battlement and a battleship, which it becomes in one sequence. There's plenty of high-decibel noise, provided by Acme Sound Designers, who furthermore make free with explosions to underscore the threat Fortinbras' forces pose as they near the rotting Denmark state. As for the time-frame, it looks like a kind of surreal 1950's, thanks in part to the Balenciaga-like coats and gowns costume designer Ann Hould-Ward puts on Gertrude and the bowler hats she assigns to Rosencranz (Hoon Lee) and Guildenstern (Greg McFadden).
The most welcome mitigating factor in this melee turns out to be Basil Twist's puppets. I'm not being facetious when I say the best acting in this hammy Hamlet comes from the marionettes appearing in "The Murder of Gonzago." This is an unusually outstanding and marvelous subtle rendition of the short play Hamlet stages to "catch the conscience of the king."