Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Off the Wall Theatre, “Hamlet”

Saturday evening, March 5th, we went to see Off the Wall Theatre’s new production of “Hamlet.” Their previous effort, five or so years ago, was a very “blood and thunder” piece. This version was a very pared-down and contemplative approach, which we thought worked very well. The actors were frequently very close to the audience, which was very effective. For his “ to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet (Jeremy C. Welter) took a chair in the aisle at touching distance from us, and gave the famous speech in a meditative, confiding tone that worked very well. Other actors subtly broke the “fourth wall” as well, with Claudius (Randall Anderson) talking to us, instead of to himself, on the scene beginning “my crime is rank, it stinks to heaven; it hath the primal, eldest curse upon it—a brother’s murder.”

The script was pared down, but extraneous characters were not missed, and all the vital action and iconic dialog was preserved. The playing space was small but flexible, with panels that sometimes became mazelike as entrances and exits crossed. The set decorations and costume elements had a generally Mideastern flavor, which made it a bit more “Hamlet, Prince of Persia” than “Prince of Denmark” but worked to give a “not here, not now” flavor, and may also refer to the fratricidal and internecine strife that afflicts that region today.

Welter as Hamlet was tightly controlled. We the audience see that he is never “mad”, but angry, and his acting out assuages his feelings of aggression as well as unsettling his family and their courtiers. This was a truly fine piece of acting. The other standout role in the play was that of Calynn Klohn as Ophelia. Her childlike build and face help make Hamlet’s abuse of her the more brutal, and, after she’s been literally thrown down by Hamlet, neither Claudius nor Polonious, her father, show any care for her, but leave her lying while they speculate on Hamlet’s state. That she herself joins in worrying about Hamlet shows the extent to which she’s been colonized by her elders. In Ophelia’s “mad scene” Ms. Klohn showed an undercurrent of anger that made her desperation and distraction much more real and affecting.

Marilyn White, as Gertrude, also gave a fine performance as the newly married Queen. One could see that her “newlywed” antics with Claudius would tend to turn Hamlet’s stomach, but also made us wonder if the dead King had been “all that” as a husband, and whether perhaps the royal marriage bed had gone stale.

The principals were well supported by Patrick McCann as Horatio, Max Williamson as Laertes, Erin Eggers as Rosencrantz, and Lawrence J. Lukasavage as Guildenstern.
Director Dale Gutzman reserved the plummy roles of the Ghost, the Player King, and the Gravedigger, for himself, and handled them very well. Doing the Ghost as more of a friendly spirit fit the intimacy of the production, but I was a bit uncertain about having the Ghost actually embrace Hamlet. The fact that the Ghost also gives Hamlet a scarf which he wears through much of the play seemed a bit unusual also, until we see that it is a “macguffin” that other characters seem to recognize.

There were many other fine, subtle, and original touches in this presentation that made it one of the finest Hamlets we have seen.

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Tags: theatre
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