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BWW Review: HAMLET at Gamut Theatre

Grab your blanket or chair and enjoy live theatre at a beautiful outdoor venue. Gamut's Hamlet runs through June 19 in Reservoir Park.

BWW Review: HAMLET at Gamut Theatre

Gamut Theatre's Free Shakespeare in the Park (FSIP) has been a staple in the Harrisburg community for 28 years! This year's production is Hamlet, adapted by Melissa H. Nicholson and J. Clark Nicholson with the unique interpretation Gamut Theatre is known for. Director Clark Nicholson explains that this version was originally designed as a production for touring in schools, so it's "highly truncated and the casting is doubled and tripled to keep to a manageable size." As this touring version of Hamlet was cancelled due to the pandemic, it was the perfect choice for their return to Reservoir Park for FSIP. As Dramaturg Kim Greenawalt comments in her notes, shows like Hamlet take on a new meaning in a post-pandemic world. For instance, at one point in the play Hamlet comments that Denmark has become a prison. Greenawalt states, "Denmark as a prison has new meaning with travel bans"; even our own houses started to feel like prisons during the height of the shut-down. The production is modernized, with costumes illustrating quintessential Danish fashion and props including switchblades and cell phones.

There was so much joy in Reservoir Park on opening night of Hamlet. The cast and crew and audience shared in live theatre in a way they haven't been able to in over a year. The energy was palpable both on stage and among those watching. Actors Clark Nicholson, Grace Hoover, and Andrew Webb take on multiple roles throughout the play. Nicholson is particularly stirring in his performance of the Ghost of Hamlet's father-his slow movements, expressionless face, and sonorous voice are wonderfully eerie. Hoover and Webb move effortlessly between their diverse characters, but they really light up the stage as Hamlet's old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Lyeneal Griffin plays the role of Horatio, Hamlet's close friend. The interactions between Griffin's Horatio and Ross Carmichael's Hamlet are engaging and authentic. Griffin has great energy on stage, drawing the audience into the action and showing wonderful emotional range.

Francesca Amendolia and Dan Burke portray Gertrude and Claudius, the queen and her new duplicitous, power hungry husband (her dead husband's brother). Amendolia's Gertrude comes across as dignified and aloof, though her concern for her Hamlet is evident. Her most interesting scene is in the second act when Hamlet confronts her about his father's death and her relationship with Claudius. Amendolia allows Gertrude's mask of royal aloofness to slip during this scene, giving audiences a glimpse into her real feelings toward Claudius, Hamlet, and her dead husband. Burke gives a commanding performance as Claudius. He has a presence on stage that is perfect for the role.

Alex Winnick, Erin Shellenberger, and Abby Carrol tackle the roles of Ophelia (Shellenberger) and Ophelia's mother Polonia (Carrol) and brother Laertes (Winnick). The inclusion of Polonia as Ophelia's mother rather than Polonius as Ophelia's father as it was originally written, lends an interesting twist to this interpretation. Carroll maintains the straight-laced, conservative nature of the character while demonstrating a motherly affection for Ophelia. Her concern for Ophelia and her relationship with Hamlet takes on new meaning coming as it does from a mother instead of a father. Winnick's portrayal of Laertes, Ophelia's brother, is strong, with his best moments coming at Ophelia's gravesite and in his swordfight with Hamlet. Shellenberger is delightful as Ophelia. She takes the audience on an emotional journey as she navigates her feelings for Hamlet. The scene in which Ophelia goes mad is inspired-it is superbly acted by Shellenberger.

While all of the characters are nuanced and challenging, the title character Hamlet is, perhaps, the most complicated. Ross Carmichael rises to the challenge of this role beautifully. He is extremely versatile, showing the range of Hamlet's emotions through his facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Hamlet's many monologues are delivered in an engaging way by Carmichael, and his interactions with the other characters display great emotional depth. It is, overall, a brilliant performance.

Grab your blanket or chair and enjoy live theatre in this beautiful outdoor venue. Hamlet runs Wed-Sat June 4-19 at 7:30pm at the Levitt Pavilion in Reservoir Park. For more information, visit www.gamuttheatre.org.


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