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BWW Review: HAMLET at New Mexico Shakespeare Festival

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Starring Sheridan K. Johnson as a Hamlet unlike any other!

BWW Review: HAMLET at New Mexico Shakespeare Festival

Hamlet has... a reputation. Love it or hate it (and so much of that depends on how you've seen it done or where you were first exposed to it), most theatre folk have some kind of opinion about it. To be honest, I myself had long been apathetic about the play. Of all the Bard's works (and I've read and studied all but a handful, and performed a not insignificant number, too), it's been one of those texts that I just.. Couldn't connect to. I mean, I get it. I do. I understand how important it is, how well written, how representative of the universal condition, etc. But the play has never spoken to me.

Until, truthfully, this last weekend.

I made the trek down from Santa Fe to the NM Veteran's Memorial Park in Albuquerque (1100 Louisiana SE -- a gorgeous, effectively used venue) to catch the New Mexico Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet (regrettably, due to other obligations, I was not able to catch the other work this season: a bilingual production of Twelfth Night which sounds truly magnificent) and, finally, I got it.

It helped that this production of Hamlet is sharp -- incredibly so. Remarkably well paced and brilliantly edited, with so much more action, energy, and even humor than I'd known the play could hold, it is immediately accessible and clearly was directed (by NM Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Peter Shea Kierst, who also appeared as the Ghost and Player King the night I attended) and performed by people who really know what they're doing. The technical design is simple but effective (technical direction by Micah Linford; lighting design by Nick Tapia, props design by Maureen Trujillo, set design by Valeria Rios-Giermakowski, and sound design by Josh Brown), and costumes, while not of any particular era beyond early 20's century, also suit characters beautifully (costume master: Jacob Griego; costume design by Carmella Lynn Lauer and Joe Moncada).

To answer the obvious question, Ms. Johnson's Hamlet is terrific and wonderfully unique. Where the character can so often be weighed down and even subdued by the enormity of the task he faces, she imbues her Hamlet with life, charm, energy, passion... and even, on occasion, goofiness (the demands of the physicality she creates, particularly during Hamlet's "mad" scenes, must be noted). Hamlet's grief and rage from the very opening are also palpable; the immense sense of loss that Hamlet shares with the audience, and the believability of the response, is occasionally difficult to experience, but always authentic.

The rest of the cast is consistently very strong -- to name a few, Mark J Richmann's Claudius was very impressive, and in his prayer scene, almost had shades of Macbeth, which I found intriguing; Marc Comstock's Polonius was nicely comedic and blustery, and a good foil to Claudius. Nicholas Johnson's Laertes was excellent and thoroughly sympathetic; Augusta Allen-Jones as Gertrude and Caitlin Kelly as Ophelia were both well cast and very talented, though I did wish that more weight had been given to these female characters through the edit and direction. Even the roles that might otherwise be considered afterthoughts were performed by actors whose thorough work and considerable skill commanded the audience's attention -- starting the play off with Levi Gore and Stuart Neef's excellent Bernardo and Marcellus, respectively, struck the perfect tone, and Graydon Clarke's gravitas as Fortinbras added stakes to the already tense plot of the play. Neil Faulconbridge's Gravedigger delighted, as well.

The production as a whole runs just about two and a half hours (including one fifteen minute intermission); bring a picnic and some friends, and get yourself to the NM Veteran's Memorial Park for either Hamlet or Twelfth Night this weekend before they close -- you won't regret it.

The company includes Augusta Allen-Jones, Daniel Paul Anaya, Alexandra Avila, Kainon Orion Bachtel, Scott Bing, Mark J. Richman, Owen Reid Callis, Graydon Clarke, Marc Comstock, Paul Ford, Neil Faulconbridge, Caedmon Holland, Justin Holt, Sheridan K. Johnson, Nicholas Johnson, Caitlin Kelly, Catalina, Levi Gore, Owen Danan Martin, Stuart Neef, Margie Maes, Megan Pribyl, Michelle Varela, Chris Black, Eddie Dethlefs, Rachel Foster, Hallie Harris, Joel Miller, Grace Walker, and George Williams.

Remaining show dates for the 2021 New Mexico Shakespeare Festival:

  • Thursday, September 16- Hamlet
  • Friday, September 17 - Twelfth Night
  • Saturday, September 18 - Hamlet
  • Sunday, September 19 - Twelfth Night

All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. No tickets are required and all seats are free. You may bring lawn chairs, cushions and stadium seats for the benches, blankets and picnics (no alcohol) and dogs on leashes. There is plenty of room for wheelchairs.

For more information, visit https://www.newmexicoshakespearefest.org/.


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