Monday, September 17, 2018

Margin Notes: Hamlet (What Dreams May Come)

Nathan Winkelstein and Lindsay Alexandra Carter.
Photo by Reiko Yanagi.

Seen on: Friday, 9/14/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Ript Theater Company makes its debut with a 90 minute, four person production of Hamlet, following the dissolution of two families as Prince Hamlet plans to exact revenge on his uncle for his father's murder.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew Hamlet quite well, of course. This was actually my second four person Hamlet, thanks to Bedlam.


Play: In his director's note, Winkelstein explains that he became most interested in following the destruction of the two families (Hamlet's and Polonius's) and thus pared down the play to eliminate Norway, England, and the inner machinations of the court. Unfortunately with this economic cutting, some important facets of the story do get lost, most especially (regrettably) Hamlet himself as an active player in the drama. It becomes too easy to get caught up instead in Polonius's schemes, as the more proactive plotter at hand. Lost, too, is Horatio's importance, as witness to the action, and sole survivor of the principals (that's more a personal preference, I suppose). It becomes a bit too easy to forget that Hamlet is the main character here, were it not for the fact that he's the one performer in black, and the one performer not doubling. I worry too that the story as told would be unclear to someone not already familiar with the text (I had to remind myself whether Hamlet was speaking to Laertes or Horatio from scene to scene). I'm picking at this a lot because the work otherwise is very very strong. The staging of the show is economic and clear, with smooth transitions for the performers to shift roles, or retreat to corners to observe the action, hoods drawn. Cat Yudain's fight choreography for the duel between Hamlet and Laertes is dynamic and thrilling, and, frankly, better staged than some I've seen on Broadway.

Cast: The four actors bring an earnest and unadorned vulnerability to their roles that dispels ceremony and dives for the meat of the matter. As the title character, Nathan Winkelstein is mercifully not self-indulgent with his soliloquies (a risk for any Hamlet, but even more so when the actor is also the director and text adapter), but still and intense, drawing the audience in as his confidante and conspirator. His three co-stars, Lindsay Alexandra Carter, Ade Otukoya, and Chauncy Thomas, have a different challenge, as they must play all the other parts--no small feat even in this pared-down text. There are varying degrees of success here, and perhaps too much reliance on costume adjustments to distinguish character shifts; too often, the nuances of the roles blend within individual performers, which muddles the storytelling. However, Chauncy Thomas truly shines, displaying a wealth of physical and vocal distinctions for his characters (which include a charismatic Claudius, a simpering Polonius, and a divalicious Player King), such that you believe even their heart rates are different. The pairing, then, of Claudius's "O, my offense is rank" and Hamlet's "Now might I do it pat" is one of the most intense and effective moments in the show.

Design: Designers Melissa Anderson (Set), Paul T. Kennedy (Lighting), and Alan Waters (Sound) work together in perfect harmony to create a minimal and haunting sight-, sound-, and landscape against which the story unfolds, as ghostly whispers greet the audience, while a sleeping Hamlet lies spread eagle in a circle of light. The back wall, painted black, has the faint visible echo of a sound wave against the landscape, but the center is slashed across with a violent streak of white, like a meteor crashing to earth, and this slash is mirrored in Sarah Marie Dixey's gorgeous costume design. Hamlet wears black, the other three performers in white; while each costume is detailed, layered, and providing flexibility for character shifts, they are all torn and stained with each other's colors. Hamlet's shoulder and breast are splashed with white, like a spurting of blood; the other three seem tinged with ash, which gives their garments a simultaneous shimmer and griminess.


Running: Now playing at The Secret Theatre (Ript Theater Company) - Opening: September 13, 2018. Closing: September 30, 2018.
Category: classic play
Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Nathan Winkelstein
Designers: Cat Yudain (AD & Fight/Movement Director), Melissa Anderson (Set), Sarah Marie Dixey (Costume), Paul T. Kennedy (Lighting), Alan Waters (Sound).
Cast: Lindsay Alexandra Carter, Ade Otukoya, Chauncy Thomas, Nathan Winkelstein.

Nathan Winkelstein, Ade Otukoya, Chauncy Thomas, and Lindsay
Alexandra Carter. Photo by Reiko Yanagi.

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