Monday, July 28, 2014

Hamlet—Anon It Moves & String House Theatres—SE Portland

“Undiscovered Country”

The most famous play by the Bard is playing at Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St. through August 23rd.  It is directed by Elizabeth Watt.  For more information, go to their site at

This is Shakespeare’s most famous play and probably one of the most known plays ever.  The rendering’s of it on film have been from fair, Olivier’s award-winning film; to good, Maximillian Shell, Richard Burton, Mel Gibson and  Christopher Plummer (TV); to mostly excellent, Branaugh’s, four-hour version.  And a woman has even played him, Judith Anderson (as a female does in this production).

Why the fascination with this tragedy?  Partly, it is because of the question of sanity.  Does Hamlet actually see his father’s ghost or is he mad?  Or, in feigning madness to get at the truth, does he actually go mad?  Is he in love with his mother and thus wants to eliminate any competition for her affectations?  What is the real nature of his relationship with Ophelia?  And why the cause of all this upheaval in which a number of people die, including himself?  Is it an act of revenge for his father’s death, or a petulant teenager feeling the angst of adulthood and royal responsibility?  Answers “devoutly to be wished.”

The story follows that this “melancholy Dane” suddenly is informed that a spirit has been haunting the castle.  (Lady) Hamlet (Erica Terpening-Romeo) insists it is the ghost of her father, claiming he’s been murder by his brother, Claudius (Jamie Peck), now King, who has married the Queen, Gertrude (Ethelyn Friend), Hamlet’s mother.  Included in this intrigue is his only true best friend, Horatio (Bonnie Auguston); Ophelia (Crystal Ann Muñoz), her love interest; Ophelia’s father, Polonius (Chris Porter), the royal couple’s confidant; and Laertes (Heath Hyun Houghton), Ophelia’s brother.

In order to discover the nature of Hamlet’s “illness,” the King employs two of his step-daughter’s childhood friends, Rosencrantz (Joel Patrick Durham) and Guildenstern (Caitlin Fisher-Draeger) to find the reason for this change in her nature.  Meanwhile, Hamlet has her own methods of wringing the truth out of the situation.  She employs a group of actors (Alwynn Accuardi, Gretchen Vietmeir, Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Kristen Lang) led by the First Player (Paul Susi), to incorporate some lines into their entertainment, that directly alludes to what she believes to be the murder of her father.

Needless to say, once the cat is out of the bag, all hell breaks loose and more than a half-dozen people die.  Can’t really tell you any more without giving away the ending but, suffice to say, an irresponsible sort of justice is metered out, such is the nature of tragedy.  Not all the questions are answered in this gender-bender interpretation of the story but it does tantalize us with more possibilities.  And credit must go to Watt for bringing this all together.

She has managed to give this play more physicality than is usually seen, in dance-like movements, which gives it a dream-like feel at times.  She also clarifies the nature of Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship, in which they are already in love, but it is out of obedience to her father that she breaks off the union with Hamlet, because the King fears Hamlet to be mad.  And the concentration on more of the family (and friends) dynamics, gives a cleaner view of the plot.  Her use of space (with Kaye Blankenship & Matthew Robbins, Designers) in the many different settings is quite ingenious and never confusing.  I especially liked the Dumb (Mute) show tableaus of the Players play and the stylized fight scene at the end.

Terpening-Romeo (co-artistic director of Anon…) gives us a very convincing Hamlet.  We travel with her as she discovers and exploits the various guises of her family and friends to find the truth.  Peck gives a more relaxed and amusing King, which makes him all the more dangerous.  Durham and Fisher-Drager (co-artistic director) as her two friends are wonderfully befuddled, bemused and bewildered.  It will be fun to see these two explore more fully this relationship in their repertory piece, R&G Are Dead.  And, in supporting roles, Lang is someone to watch.  I’ve seen her in a previous show and she definitely has talent.

Susi is terrific as the Player King and the First Gravedigger.  It will be good to see this role expanded in R&G….  And Muñoz is the best Ophelia I’ve seen.  This is often a muddy character in other productions, as they may not have known what to with this role.  But here, it is clear that she and Hamlet definitely have a loving relationship and it is only politics that separates these two.  I’ve seen her in other productions and she is always worth watching.

This production is done in repertory with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard and directed by Emily Gregory.  I recommend this production and, if you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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