BWW Review: HAMLET in Kansas City at Southmoreland Park. Shakespeare's revenge tragedy a treasure for Kansas City theatergoers

Imagine a medieval city rising, in the midst of a modern urban skyline, within a park full of beautiful trees gently rustling in the breeze. Heart of America Shakespeare festival's "Hamlet" mystically opens as twilight sets in and a fog rolls across the stage. A dashing, but still grieving, Hamlet (played by Nathan Darrow) is greeted by his mother Queen Gertrude (Jan Rogge) and her new husband and Hamlet's uncle King Claudius (George Roach) who have recently married. Prince Hamlet has returned to Denmark from his studies in England for his father's funeral. The ghostly apparition of Hamlet's father (John Rensenhouse) tells him he was murdered by Claudius and exhorts him to kill him in revenge. Hamlet devises a plan to reveal the truth about his father's death by acting crazy to conceal his true intentions while he seeks the proof and revenge he's after.

This Kansas City production rises to a level that Shakespeare enthusiasts and novices will both appreciate. The multiple tiered stage setting makes the actors much more accessible to the audience. The medieval stone castle is compellingly realistic and sets a perfect stage for a talented ensemble. The character of Hamlet can often be confusing as the Shakespearean dialogue challenges the audience to understand what our hero is up to. Darrow crafts an emotionally revealing Hamlet who straightforwardly plots each scene so that the audience doesn't miss a beat. He approaches Hamlet with suave athleticism, vengeful grief, and clever intellect. Hillary Clemens gives a wistfully torn performance as Hamlet's beloved Ophelia. Clemens convincingly portrays a woman driven mad by Hamlet's rejection and her father's death. As King Claudius, Roach is the epitome of the "smiling, damned villain", who, like many a devious yet sympathetic politician, is a master manipulator of people and circumstances. Jan Rogge, as Queen Gertrude, is sincere as Hamlet's devotedly loving mother, while in contrast she seems driven by her sensuality and need for social status. Robert Gibby Brand gives Polonius (Counselor to King Claudius and father to Ophelia and Laertes) an air of a controlling yet self-important schemer as he does the King's bidding. Matthew Schwader, as Laertes, plays him as impulsively rash yet characteristically sought on revenge. The production also stars Mark Robbins (Player King), Robe, Jake Walker (Horatio), Darren Kennedy (Rosencranz), Matt Rapport (Gravedigger), Collin Vorbeck (Guildenstern), Kendra Keller (Player Queen/Court Lady) and others.

Shakespeare's revenge tragedy is wrought with deceit, deaths, sword fights, ghostly apparitions, and some of the most famous quotes in theater. When you attend see if you can pick out these famous lines: "to thine own self be true", "To be or not to be, that is the question."" The lady doth protest too much methinks." "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him"... among others. This production is one that people will walk away from understanding why "Hamlet" is one of the most cherished works of theater, of all time. Admission is free (thought voluntary donations are taken at the gate), and the experience is priceless.

Hamlet runs through July 2nd at Southmoreland Park just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, at 7:30 pm Tuesday through Sunday. For more information go to Lawn seating is free. For reserved seating call (816) 531-7728.

Photo's by Brian Collins.

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From This Author Paul Bolton

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