BWW Review: HAMLET - A Successful Contemporized & Humanized Re-Telling
Four Clowns' founder and former artistic director Jeremy Aluma has deftly infused his Four Clowns magic directing his contemporary version of the classic HAMLET just finishing its run at the Lyceum Theater. Eschewing Shakespeare's couplets and metrics, this normal-speak HAMLET on vengeance, loyalties (both well-earned and misguided) and betrayals could be in any time period where fedora-ed men wear three-piece suits and ties while women can wear baggy pastel-colored pants and a beret. (Applause to costumer Grace Johnston.)
The central character of Hamlet receives a vivid, naturalistic, more commoner/less royal portrayal by James McHale. McHale's totally convincing as he charms his way into the heart of Ophelia and maintains deep, devoted friendships with Horatio and Laertes. McHale imbues a sensibility to Hamlet's madness, making his insanity much more controlled while puzzling to the others of the Royal Court.
Lola Kelly enchants as Ophelia - the object of Hamlet's affections, dutiful daughter of Polinius and loving sister of Laertes. Beyond smitten with Hamlet, she does agree to hold herself back from him as her father advises/wishes. Kelly's 'gone mad' scenes of Ophelia illicit much intended sympathy and sadness for her. Kelly and McHale's "Get thee to a nunnery" scene crackles with such vibrancy and intensity. (Trivia: did you know nunnery has two meanings? Convent and, also, brothel.)
Ahmed T. Brooks as Polonius marvels in his fast talking, now comic (in Aluma's version) monologue on fatherly advice to Ophelia.
Andrew Puente authentically plays Horatio, very nicely leading the show opening with a smoothly staged cast movement and freeze.
As the ultimate villain of HAMLET, Paul Eggington commands the stage with his majestic authority as Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and now new stepfather. Eggington slyly keeps one guessing as to the real intent of Claudius marrying Hamlet's mother, Gertrude so soon following the King's death.
Susan K. Berkompas gives much weight to her oblivious, buT Loving Gertrude.
Jason Evans effortlessly essays Laertes, the loving, teasing brother of Ophelia and the revengeful, single-minded son of Polonius. Convincing sword fighting between McHale and Evans with fight choreography by Richard Soto.
William Crisp makes a royal presence as the Ghost of King Hamlet. His, and other apparitions, receive enhancing support from the eerie sound effects from Sound Designer Garet Spady and the music compositions of Taylor Stephenson.
The characters of Rosecrantz and Guildenstern make for the perfect opportunity to showcase clownery, the Four Clowns signature expertize. Aluma takes full advantage using Katie Canavan (as Rosecrantz) and, especially, Aaron McGee (Guildenstern), in their purposely slapstick takes as Hamlet's friends from his past. The Four Clown touch becomes totally evident in the 'play within the play' as the touring Players re-enact a scenario Hamlet wrote to mirror Claudius murdering his father. Kudos to Brock Joseph, Amanda Zarr, Ian Jenkins and Stephenson, brilliantly performing as The Players, as well as, in other supporting roles.
Other spot-on technical contributions include the stylishly clean, bare-bones, double-tiered set by Eggington and the multi-cued lighting design from Zach Simons.
If only Shakespeare could be presented this fun and this relatable in schools as in this American Coast Theater Company production. Though still respected, Shakespeare classics wouldn't be feared.