by Terrance Mc Arthur
For a director, the best thing about Shakespeare is that he’s dead, and he can’t complain about how his script is interpreted. It gives a production freedom to interpret the text in any number of ways. In the Fourth Wall Theatre Company’s Hamlet, at Visalia’s Main Street Theatre until August 16, that interpretation is modern and sleek, with hide-a-beds and headphones.
Hamlet (Adam Rodriguez) comes home from college to find his father (also named Hamlet) dead and his mother (Diane Fidalgo) married to his father’s brother. (Shawn Paregien), but daddy’s ghost is roaming the walls of Denmark Industries. Using headphones for audio, and with a writhing figure connected to his portrait for the video, he tells his son that he was murdered by…his brother, the new king. Hamlet’s mission, should he choose to accept it: kill his uncle/stepfather.
Does his mission turn him mad, or does he just pretend to be mad while he figures out what to do? Mad or not, he kills the father (David Lemon) of his girlfriend (Brittney Burris), which drives her really crazy. Her brother (David Payne) comes back to get revenge, and, since this is a Shakespeare tragedy, almost everybody dies (the stage is littered—yes, littered—with bodies; it looks like an episode of E.R. when all the dying is done).
There are parts of the play that are missing. There usually are. The full script can run 4 ½ hours. Director Chris Mangels has whittled his production down to three hours.
Rodriguez lends a white-heat intensity to Hamlet, even when he is lazing about in a headphone-induced stupor. At any moment, he can explode into a frenzy of action, lifting onto the balls of his bare feet. He is not a contemplative Hamlet; he is an alarm clock wired into a block of plastic explosives. He deals directly with the other characters, challenging them, seeking truths.
Fidalgo is regal, perplexed by her son’s reaction to her remarriage. She runs through frustration, feigned acceptance, fear, and anger on her way to her unhappy end. Paregien’s Claudius is like a businessman-villain on a Magnum, P. I. episode, so intent on hiding his own guilt that he would authorize more crimes during the cover-up. He’s smooth, but his façade eventually shows the strain of pretending innocence.
Burris begins as a naïve, straitlaced, dutiful daughter who makes fun of her father when he can’t see her, but her costuming and character loosen up as her grasp on the real world slips away. Lemon is pedantic, bombastic (in a quiet way), and a full-time toady, and he is a froth of yeast to leaven the proceedings. How can you criticize a person who has also played Jesus Christ, Superstar and Gomez Addams? Payne is a military cadet who becomes a camo-clad warrior fueled by anger. His duel with Hamlet is well-choreographed by Mangels.
James McDonnell’s costumes are instrumental in pointing out character attributes in subtle ways. The Gravediggers are in maintenance outfits that emphasize their station in the Denmark Industries food-chain. Mangels has staged his Denmark in white elegance, trimmed in gold, with fantastic photo-based portraits of the royal lineage that become part of the action
Shakespeare plays can come off as museum exhibits or over-cluttered excesses. The Fourth Wall’s Hamlet is spare, brisk, and filled with an intense life. It kept me awake for three hours, and I’d be willing to see it again.
The Main Street Theatre is at 307 E. Main St. in Visalia. Evening curtain time is 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online at Hamlet2015.bpt.me.
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