Skull of Hard Knocks: At Folger, a lean, mean tale of Denmark.

I’ve seen a Hamlet or three in my day, and each one has offered an eye-opening moment of revelation. (Maybe not the space-operaversion in Adams Morgan a decade and more ago, with its bald punk prince and its sex-mad Gertrude in her Saran Wrap bustier. But I digress.) Never, though, has any director surprised me three times in a night—not until now. So yes, Joseph Haj’s clean, urgent production at the Folger Theatre is as unburdened by directorial (and actorial) grandstanding as that bored-with-it review in the Washington Post suggests, but “primly orchestrated” and “placidly uninvolving?” Hardly: It’s vivid, unvarnished and honest, the believably human tale of a vigorous young prince (a charismatic Graham Michael Hamilton) who’s honestly in love with a commoner (Lindsay Wochley’s pretty, affecting Ophelia), genuinely grieved by the loss of his father (a marvelously tender Todd Scofield as the Ghost) and embittered by his mother’s quick remarriage to the one man who could keep our hero from taking the throne. Is he mad? Less so than some, but certainly pushed to the brink and doing his best to cope with pressures most of us couldn’t imagine. Meanwhile the pace is brisk, the edit is lean, and the visuals striking, not least because James Kronzer’s endless white volume of a set seems to have broken not the fourth wall but some dimensional barrier—who knew the Folger stage was that deep? And thrice—in Ophelia’s mad scene, in a conversation with a military stranger on a windswept Danish plain, and in the final moments of a life—Haj and his players find new notions about the play and realize them deftly, subtly, suggestively. My eyes widened, anyway, and in the theater, that’s always something of a thrill.