Sunday, September 22, 2019

Hamlet—Speculative Drama—SE Portland

                                                “The Play’s the Thing”

     This classic production is directed by Myrrh Larsen.  It is unique in that it is 
presented in someone’s home with the audience traveling with the cast from room to room, as the story unfolds.  Because of this, the location of the residence is secret (until you purchase a ticket, of course) and is limited to about a dozen people.  It plays through October 12th.  For more information, go to their site at

    There are numerous play and film versions of this tragic story.  The best of them is probably Branagh’s, which is the closest to the full version of the play, clocking in at four hours, and revealing fuller stories of the subplots and minor characters.  Other versions had Christopher Plummer, Laurence Olivier, Maximillian Schell, Nicol Williamson, Mel Gibson, Richard Bruton, Judith Anderson, et. al., playing the “Melancholy Dane.”  I have seen about a dozen different stage versions of the play, as well as that many film versions, over the years.  Again, Branagh’s is the best at fleshing out the full story.

     Prince Hamlet (Isabella Buckner) of Denmark’s father has died and his brother, Claudius (John Aney), has anxiously slipped into bed with Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Tamara Sorelli) and married her, becoming King, of course.
Meanwhile, Polonius (Matt Ostrowski), father of Ophelia (Megan Skye Hale) and Laertes (Myia Johnson), has thoughts of marrying off his daughter to Hamlet.  And they do seem chummy for a while and all might have turned out well, except that Hamlet’s father’s ghost suddenly appears and reveals to his son that he was untimely murdered by his own brother, Claudius.  This turns the tides for the Prince and he is now set on a plan of revenge.  Something is, indeed, “…rotten in the state of Denmark.” 

    His uncle, sensing that something is amiss with his step-son, sends for two of his former college pals, Rosencrantz (Katie Mortemore) and Guildenstern (Jonathan Miles), to find out the cause of his distress.  They conclude that he is mad and, indeed, he acts that way, but there is a method to it.  He is hell-bent on proving to himself that his uncle is the murderer and so, when a group of players arrives, he consorts with the leader of them (Megan Haynes) to contrive an addition to the play that they are to perform for them, in which a scene will portray a thinly disguised depiction of the actual murder.

    He confides to his best friend, Horatio (Olivia Gray) that, if the King “…but flinch…” to that scene, then he will know for sure he has, indeed, committed such a crime.  Claudius reacts badly and Hamlet knows he has “captured the conscience of the King.”  It all goes downhill from there, with more than a half dozen deaths racked up before it is over.  But I won’t reveal more of the plot, in case you are one of the few not familiar with the story.  Let’s just say that, when revenge is meted out, both the guilty and the innocent will be caught in its vortex.

    The production is performed in modern dress with even cell phones and laptops as part of the show.  The style in which this is presented, because of the close quarters, has an urgency and intimacy that other productions will fail to have.  Most of the scenes, in this almost three-hour production, work in this fashion.  The only one failing that mark is the one which involves the death of one of the characters in the Queen’s bedroom, as only a couple of people could see easily into the room and then one of the characters stood in the doorway for a short period.  But, outside of that minor flaw, the style works beautifully.

    The acting, for the most part, is very good.  Top honors go to Hale, as the unfortunate love interest, as she slowly succumbs to a depression from Hamlet’s rejection of her.  Johnson gives one of the most concise depictions of her spirited brother, as you understood his conflicted feelings.  Gray, as the best friend, is a true-blue companion and you feel for him, as he tries to pull Hamlet out of his doldrums.  And Buckner, as the young Prince, is excellent.  She is on an emotional roller-coaster and she brings you along for the ride.  She is one of the better Hamlet’s I’ve seen!

    One scene that gripped me more than any other, was the fight and death scenes surrounding the three young kinsmen at the end.  As well as I knew the scene, I did get choked up at that point, partly because of the intimate nature of the scene, but also because the actors were fully vested in those moments…a tearjerker.  Larsen has done an incredible job with directing such a complicated project.  Kudos to all involved!

    I highly recommend this production, but with such limited space, tickets are going fast.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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