By David Walters

What marks summer for me is not Memorial Day, is not the solstice, is not locally grown strawberries showing up at the market, is not LI Sounds water temperature hitting my tolerable 67 degrees, it is The Public’s Free Shakespeare in the Park opening night. Summer is finally here. Despite the occasional bug, helicopter, night bird, airplane, and bat, there is something magical about sitting there in Central Park in the summer and enjoying a show.

And what a way to start the season off, with a brooding prince. This will be the fifth time that HAMLET has shown himself under the stars of the Delacorte Theater since its beginning in 1962.

I’m going to assume that you know the story of Hamlet (or at least Lion King), and if not, read a synopsis here and then come back.

With a striking, and distracting, set design (Oz-like) by Beowulf Boritt, this production will be the last Free Shakespeare in the Park in the Delacorte, this version anyway, as the theater gets set for an 18-month renovation. Don’t miss out on this free event as its like getting a golden ticket and should be part of everyone’s summer in the city.

Ato Blankson-Wood was gifted the Hamlet role (an altogether impossible one for anyone at any age) and with director Kenny Leon‘s guidance did a good job in being offended as he leads everyone down the path of madness. One of the most difficult parts of playing Hamlet is to not play the end at the beginning (this goes for most any role, but this one in particular). Once he was justly offended and his path was clear, Mr. Blankson-Wood was a prince to be reckoned with and rightfully dolled out his personal justice.

Solea Pfeiffer, as Ophelia, (a delightful singing voice) brought a trusting aspect to her role that made her descent into madness all the more tragic.

Lorraine Toussaint as Gertrude (delivered strength to an often sidelined role) and John Douglas Thompson as Claudius in a constant expose’ of intimacy (get a room!) was more than enough to push their only son to the brink.

Daniel Pearce, as Polonius, with a compelling ease, threw most of his lines away and that made his character all the more stronger and watchable. A little of the air went out of the production when Hamlet pierced him with, “Dead for a ducat, dead.”

What a piece of work is a play. And this enduring piece of work, under the stars in Central Park, despite some of the distractingly applied silliness, is a must for your summer wishlist.

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HAMLET by William Shakespeare, directed by Kenny Leon’s

Presented by The Public Theater’s’ Free Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

The complete cast of HAMLET includes Ato Blankson-Wood (Hamlet), Mikhail Calliste (Player), Liam Craig (Understudy), Brandon Gill (Guildenstern/Opening Vocalist), Safiya Harris (Gentlewoman/Ensemble), Lauryn Hayes (Player), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Osric/Priest), Greg Hildreth (Gravedigger), LaWanda Hopkins (Player), Jaylon Jamal (Ensemble), Trí Lê (Barnardo/Ensemble), Colby Lewis (First Player/Opening Vocalist), Cornelius McMoyler (Gravedigger’s Assistant/Ensemble), Warner Miller (Horatio), Daniel Pearce (Polonius), Solea Pfeiffer (Ophelia), Nick Rehberger (Laertes), Laughton Royce (Messenger/Ensemble), Lance Alexander Smith (Marcellus/Opening Vocalist/Ensemble), John Douglas Thompson (Claudius), Lorraine Toussaint (Gertrude), Myxolydia Tyler (Understudy), William Oliver Watkins (Understudy), Lark White (Sailor/Ensemble), Mitchell Winter (Rosencrantz), and Bryce Michael Wood (Understudy).

Samuel L. Jackson provides the voice of the late King Hamlet.

Scenic Design Beowulf Boritt, Costume Design (Gertrudes hat is fabulous) Jessica Jahn, Lighting Design Allen Lee Hughes, Sound Design Justin Ellington, Production Design Jeff Sugg, Music and Additional Lyrics Jason Michael Webb, Hair/Wig/Makeup Earon Chew Healey, Corinne Cologursky, Thomas Schall, Camille A. Brown

As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.