by Terrance Mc Arthur
To be…or what?
There’s a whole lot of Hamlet goin’ on! The Woodward Shakespeare Festival has the Melancholy Dane onstage, while the Good Company Second Space pokes fun at him with I Hate Hamlet. The WSF’s second and final play of the season will be another riff on something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-Denmark, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Shakespeare is really busy these days, 400 years after his death.
Hamlet is the great theatrical mountain, the peak every performing company longs to scale, that every actor dreams of conquering. At WSF, Broderic Beard sets off with ice axe and pitons as both star and director, which makes the journey more difficult. With his Benedict Cumberbatch-ish looks, Beard is earnest and bookish in appearance. At times of stress, he shakes in a Joe Cocker way, his hands trying to clutch something out of reach; is it Hamlet’s grasp on reality?
Some of Beard’s directing choices may be based on the available acting pool, but he does bring the production to a close in a brisk 2¼ hours (with intermission). Osric of Norway is cut out (which is often done), and some well-known lines (including “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”) bite the dust. He also turns several soliloquies into monologues by giving Hamlet someone else in the room, so he’s not talking to himself; it’s Ophelia (Victoria Lichti) or Horatio (Dylan Hardcastle) lending a sympathetic ear. Rosencrantz (Renee Newlove), Guildenstern (Karina Rodriguez), and Laertes (Casey Ballard) are played by women as women, requiring some changes in pronouns and relativity (him to her, son to daughter, brother to sister).
You know the story, right? Prince Hamlet is depressed because King Hamlet died, but daddy’s ghost shows up, claiming he was murdered by his brother Claudius (Thomas Nance), who married Gertrude (Lisa Taber), the dead king’s wife, mother of the prince. Hamlet goes back and forth on should he kill his uncle or himself, pretending to have gone crazy…or is he pretending? He manages to kill Polonius (Greg Taber), father of Ophelia, which makes her really go crazy, and, since this is a Shakespearean tragedy, the play ends with a stage full of dead people.
Nance is a feeling Claudius who cannot remain stony and unaffected by events. Lisa Taber strives to understand her son’s perplexing actions. Jonathan Gledhill and Celeste Johnson are a Mutt & Jeff pair of gravediggers (Johnson served as costumer for the mostly-mid-20th-century outfits). Newlove is strident and sensually aggressive while Rodriguez is demurely shocked. Russell Noland gets to play the Player King, conscripting the royals into playing something resembling themselves as an entertainment, an interesting solution to needing extra players in a cast of 12. Another workaround is giving Hardcastle a paranormal case of possession to avoid seeking another actor.
Greg Taber keeps a touch of smirk as the court advisor, who seems to be a former warrior gone to pasture with a cane and many words. Lichti devolves into madness gently and wholeheartedly. Ballard is brash and lethal, a statuesque swashbuckler bent on revenge for the deaths in her family, reminiscent of Kristen Johnston in 3rd Rock from the Sun.
This WSF Hamlet is bold and brief, confident and confused. Bring someone with you. The two of you will have much to discuss. The show runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. until July 16. The play is free, but car entry to the park is $5. The intermission goodies are scrumptious, and they’ve added grilled hot dogs to the bill of fare. Yummy! Go Shakespeare!
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.