BWW Reviews: Classical Theatre Company's Edward Snowden Inspired HAMLET Works
Soon, the lights dimmed and the actors took the stage. The theme of constant and invasive surveillance was deftly brought to the forefront by JJ Johnston's direction. He opens the show with a man observing a screen, presumably attached to any number of surveillance cameras. It becomes instantly clear that if something is truly rotten in the state of Denmark, someone attached to the government will see it and know about. The connections to NSA and Edward Snowden materialized before my eyes, and that's when this extremely contemporized approach to HAMLET clicked for me. JJ Johnston's staging and direction capture the loss of privacy Hamlet faces. As he struggles with the death (well, murder) of his father and his uncle marrying his mother before she had a chance to grieve, it seems all eyes are on Hamlet. Everyone is watching him and minding to his business. He cannot escape surveillance. He has no privacy, and, for this production, that appears to be the jumping off point for both his feigned madness and actual insanity. All of the familiar scenes play out. The audience mouth along to the famous lines from the show, and the production ends sans Fortinbras. We are left with Hamlet telling Horatio not to commit suicide in light of the tragedy he has just seen, but to share Hamlet's story. However, Denmark is left without a ruler and in a state of disillusioned despair, adding some resonating gravitas to the Edward Snowden inspiration, as many the world over are still conflicted and unable to decide how they feel about his actions.
Matthew Keenan's Hamlet naturally carries the production. As an actor he paces himself well with the marathon role. Appearing on stage for a majority of the production, he handles Hamlet's arc well, moving the troubled prince from anger to misery. Matthew Keenan exposes Hamlet's inner turmoil as he struggles with revenging his father's poisoning. He is quizzical and questioning, seeking proof of what the ghost has told him. He rails against the loss of his privacy and is enraged each time he finds Polonius spying on him, adding some hefty weight to his performance in Act III, Scene I (the "Get thee to a nunnery" scene). As the line between Hamlet's fake insanity and real madness blurs, he capably delivers Hamlet's spiral downward, affecting the hearts of the audience, which allows his death to be a heartbreaking tragic waste.
Claudius, as played by Rutherford Cravens, is everything audiences need the character to be. He is detestable, authoritative, and a smidge redeemable. JJ Johnston ends his first act with Act III, Scene 3, where Claudius prays and reveals his dastardly deeds. We see a man ruined by his own ambition and being consumed by the bad choices he has made. In fact, his guilt is so strong he announces that he is unable to pray sincerely. Of course, Claudius' redemption doesn't last long. He doesn't hand over the throne to Hamlet; instead, he tries to have the youth killed in England. Rutherford Cravens powerfully brings to life Claudius' wickedness, making his visceral and gut wrenching death scene (kudos here to JJ Johnston and Fight Director Luke Fedell) as satiating as it macabre.As Ophelia, Joanna Hubbard is sweetly innocent and naïve until she is told by Hamlet to give up on life and live out the remainder of her days in a convent. Becoming a pawn in Polonius' game to find out what is troubling the prince of Denmark weighs heavily on her and brings her into her own madness. From Joanna Hubbard we see two distinctly different Ophelia's, the unspotted virgin and the woman made crazy by a love that is seemingly unrequited.