Hamlet

By Peterson, Kaara L. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Hamlet


Peterson, Kaara L., Shakespeare Bulletin


Hamlet

Presented by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company on the Boston Common, Boston, Massachusetts. July 16-August 7, 2005. Directed by Steven Maler. Set design by Leiko Fuseya. Costume design by Clint Ramos. Lighting design by Linda O'Brien. Sound design and original music by J. Hagenbuckle. Fight direction by Craig Handel. With Jeffrey Donovan (Hamlet), Jeremiah Kissel (Ghost, Player King, and Gravedigger #1), Sam Weisman (Polonius), Karen MacDonald (Gertrude), Will Lyman (Claudius), Georgia Hatzis (Ophelia), Pedro Pascal (Horatio), Jonno Roberts (Laertes), John Kooi (Rosencrantz), John Kuntz (Guildenstern and Osric), and others.

This year the CSC celebrated its tenth season of free Shakespeare on the Boston Common. Hamlet followed the company's trend in the last few years of stepping away from period costuming in favor of concept-driven modernist productions, and attracting increasingly high-profile national and Boston-area actors to their casts (2003's Macbeth starred Jay O. Saunders, seen lately in Law and Order). Both things accounted for Maler's vision of an irreverent, "updated" Hamlet, with Jeffrey Donovan playing a decidedly unmelancholic Dane--an edgy, more-ironic-than-thou Gen-X hipster. The "To be or not to be" monologue, delivered by Donovan in his typical dressed-down red hoodie sweatshirt, t-shirt, and surplus khakis, made it clear that it was having to engage in "sickly thought" on someone else's terms that irked him; impatient and prone to mocking his own heavily freighted lines ("that is the ques-shun"), he actually didn't want to think about things too deeply. Accordingly, the productions attention to the play's humor was welcome; still, it failed to establish why such a wrathful, action-oriented Hamlet didn't simply go about the business of revenge when he was not even remotely fazed by the Ghost's appearance. This is the only production I know of in which the Ghost's injunction to "swear" was taken by Hamlet as genial sparring.

The lighting in the effective (if overly rapid) Ghost scene bathed him in a harsh white-hot spotlight, illuminating his white face-paint, white South-American-dictator drill suit covered in blood, and, most innovatively, the long sticks that extended his arms to sweeping gestures (Kissel was also elevated on stilts). The stick-arms were an effective device that combined the monolithic with the oddities behind the nightmarish; it was echoed later in the Mousetrap scene, as Player King and Queen swirled and glided around like ten-foot tall Mardi Gras floats with long stick-puppet arms. Their swift, silent floats were mobile library stairs, as we learned when Claudius yanked the Player King's robe off in panic. Hamlet had Horatio wheel him around on one, punning about his "lack of advancement."

Other set elements were minimalist, industrial and white, except for the fiery, bright red blocks of the recessed upstage doors (they radiated like embers during the Ghost scene); a metal staircase, sprayed with blood, ran up the side of the stage to a second-floor catwalk. During Claudius' prayer in 3.3, the elevated steel-beam structure glowed coolly as a fluorescent cross. Downstage was a shallow rectangular pool, deep enough to stage Ophelia's drowning and serve as beachside for Hamlet. In 2.2, our prince arrived in swimsuit, sunglasses, and water wings, toting a portable radio playing Herb Alpert and a green inflatable raft that provided Donovan with the text for the "words, words, words" dictated to Polonius: "This is not a life-saving device. …

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