Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hamlet @ Hanna Theatre, March 31-April 15 Review by Laura Kennelly

Yes, it still ends badly. Heaps of bodies litter the Hanna Theatre stage at Hamlet’s conclusion. But director Charles Fee and the Great Lakes Theatre team make this beautifully staged tragedy  fresh, even new.

Fee has pruned Shakespeare’s revenge drama into a lean, stylish creation with an askewly modern slant that references Freudian Mama Love and pop psychology. On opening night #2 with Jonathan Dyrud as our hero (#1 featured Laura Welsh Berg in the title role) this interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet proved unique and deliciously satisfying

Unspoken implications emerge about motivations and values. Why does Hamlet rather unquestioningly believe the apparition which may or may not be his father’s ghost? What’s to be gained from revenge anyway? How could he treat the innocent Ophelia (and his mother for that matter) so poorly? In a powerful performance, Dyrud reveals our hero as a compelling cross between evil and good, a man who channels an obsessive edge that pushed his responses no matter who got hurt. Hamlet, in short, was a well-spoken spoiled brat with little empathy who probably shared more personality traits with his ruthless Uncle Claudius than he realized.

Erin Partin creates a lovely, wistful beauty as Ophelia, his abandoned girlfriend. Her gowns and songs were fetching. Laura Perrotta as an elaborately coiffed Gertrude, convincingly shows her as a woman too taken with her own insecurities and with the manly authority of Hamlet’s uncle (given surprising sympathetic portrayal by David Anthony Smith) to do much more than reflect distress.  Dougfred Miller, as the sententious Polonius, seems like a “good guy” and his remarks don’t seem nearly as trite as they do when quoted by our contemporaries.

Other cast members with pivotal roles in this Elizabethan-era soap opera include Lynn Robert Berg as the spooky apparition, Nick Steen as gallant Laertes, M. A. Taylor as Reynaldo, Christopher Tocco as Horatio, and Aled Davies as the Gravedigger.

Scenic designer Russell Metheny creates an outstandingly dreamy version of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The multi-leveled set seemed candlelit, thanks to a chandelier with flickering candles (really electric, but you couldn’t tell). The center stage lift was used to great advantage. The set itself offered audience members a captivating choice, whether to sit in the audience (where this reviewer sat), in the “pit” (people sitting on benches were close enough to put their drinks onstage during intermission), or on the stage, just behind the actors in tiered seating. It was kinda the Globe back in the day (with the quality in the boxes and the peasants below), and kinda not.

The production alternates male and female actors playing Hamlet, which isn’t much of a stretch considering that in Shakespeare’s time males played all the roles. I regret that I only had time to see one of the Hamlets.

Bottom Line: A truly fascinating new look at a classic that paid tribute to tradition (the set, the costumes) and to innovation (thanks to very fine acting that made familiar lines sound fresh). Shakespeare isn’t dead. There’s a reason his works still grace our stages and haunt our imaginations: He’s just that good.

Photo credit: TRG Reality

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