Not Your Mother’s Hamlet
Mendocino College and Willits Shakespeare Company Co-Production
Seethes with Madness and Youthful Verve
By Jody Gehrman
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, easily the most debated and dissected play ever, gets a radical makeover in this daring adaptation by Bryan Arnold and Billy Hetherington. Arnold and Hetherington spent years culling the original script, distilling the sprawling four hour tract into a streamlined—some might even say action-packed—version more suited to modern audiences. Their adaptation does not simply streamline the tragedy, though; bold choices abound, all of which accentuate Hamlet’s madness. Arnold’s direction implies the events unfold not in Elsinore, but inside the dark, shadowy corridors of the gloomy Dane’s disturbed psyche. This first-ever collaboration between Willits Shakespeare Company and the Mendocino College Theatre department features a stellar cast, a lush original score, an architectonic set, and visual spectacle that enhances rather than overwhelms this deeply introspective masterpiece.
As with any Shakespeare play, the challenge of modern thespians is to make the language accessible and clear so the audience stays emotionally and intellectually engaged. Four hundred years of change in the English language makes for a lot of static; it’s no small job for the actors to deliver the lengthy monologues and archaic phrasing in a way that resonates. The ensemble in this production delivers beautifully on that score. Reid Edelman comes through with a remarkably evil and expressive Claudius. Andrea McCullough as a booze-swilling, pill-popping Gertrude brings new texture and nuance to the role. Martin Squier is riveting as Laertes, and Randy Moore is charmingly frantic as Polonius. Brittani Ray lends a bizarre, schizophrenic humor as both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Kristy Tucker brings fresh pathos to Ophelia’s madness. It is difficult to imagine a more moving interpretation of Ophelia’s death (my apologies to first-time Hamlet viewers for the spoiler). Arial silk artist Kameko does a wonderful job adding visual flair as well as emotional potency to Ophelia’s final moments.
While the supporting cast’s strengths certainly elevate this production, it is patently absurd to consider attempting Hamlet without a phenomenal actor to play the lead. Billy Hetherington is just such a performer. His Hamlet is moody but never whiney, isolated yet clearly yearns to connect. The role’s wild, seesawing movement from resolute to wavering and back again can make viewers seasick if executed poorly, but Hetherington deftly sidesteps those dangers. He delivers a mercurial, deeply disturbed Hamlet that will linger in your memory long after the curtain call.
The technical components of this production deserve more than the usual nod. First, Larry Lang’s set is gorgeous, an Escher-esque nightmare of chessboards and stairways that unnerve and disorient the viewer perfectly. The score, composed by Keith Canova and performed live on stage by Canova, Steve Byrnes and Darin Smith, helps build tension and add emotional layers throughout. Costuming by Kathy Katz provides a whimsical air. Assistant Director and Puppet Master Maxx Kurzunski has created a mammoth ghost puppet with towering personality and flair.
If you’ve never seen Hamlet, this production provides an exciting and youthful introduction. If you’re a Hamlet connoisseur, you will be sure to find plenty that is boldly imaginative and fresh in Arnold and Hetherington’s interpretation. Either way, it’s a spooky treat.
Performances are Thursday October 28 at 7:30 PM, Friday October 29 at 8 PM, Saturday October 30 at 8 PM, Thursday November 4 at 7:30 PM, Friday November 5 at 8 PM, Saturday November 6 at 8 PM and Sunday November 7 at 2 PM. Tickets ($15 general; $12 students and seniors) are available at the Mendocino Book Company, at the Mendocino College Bookstore, and online at www.ArtsMendocino.org.
The play does contain moments of violence and sexuality, and is recommended for mature audiences. The show is not recommended for children under the age of 13. For more detailed information about the production, please visit the college Theatre Department web site at www.mendocino.edu/theater/deptindex.html. For additional information, call (707) 468-3172.
Created: November 02, 2010 @ 08:43 AM
Last Modified: February 23, 2011 @ 04:26 PM