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Make Hamlet
a version of Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Lucy Cashion
Equally Represented Arts
April 23, 2014

Mitch Eagles, Ethan H. Jones, Julia Crump, Nick Henderson, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, WIll Bonfiglio  Photo by Katrin Hackenberg Equally Represented Arts

Mitch Eagles, Ethan H. Jones, Julia Crump, Nick Henderson, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, WIll Bonfiglio
Photo by Katrin Hackenberg
Equally Represented Arts

 

When I say HamletI would imagine most people would know what I’m talking about. It’s one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, and it has been subject to volumes of literary and theatrical criticism and enjoyed numerous productions over the past few hundred years. There have been so many conflicting interpretations, although most of the ones I’ve seen are still basically the same story with a few differing style and/or characterization elements.  With this new production, called Make Hamlet and produced at The Chapel arts venue by Equally Represented Arts, director/adapter Lucy Cashion and her cast are presenting a take on the classic show like I’ve never seen it before. In this audacious re-imagining of the material, the ERA company challenges the audience to re-examine what we think about this much-performed and studied work, as well as reflect on the art and craft that goes into making and presenting a play.

This is a somewhat condensed, re-arranged, visually striking production that uses all of its technical resources to the fullest, and takes the cast members everywhere throughout the performance space, from the stage to the back of the performance space, to the audience and even perched on the pews that line one side of the venue. The space is adorned with various implements of gardening and sewing (a watering can, a window basket of flowers, a sewing machine, sewing patterns, etc.), suggesting a motif of creation and growing, and we see this process as the “backstage” is onstage, and characters change costumes and adjust the set in full view of the audience.  The six member ensemble presents their characters with distinctive interpretations, as well–confrontational, larger-than-life Hamlet (Nick Henderson), earnest and determined Horatio (Mitch Eagles), fast-talking and detached Claudius (Ethan H. Jones), aloof socialite Gertrude (Julia Crump), moody and conflicted Ophelia (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), and relatively mild-mannered Laertes (Will Bonfiglio).  The other characters in the action are mostly referred to but not seen, with two notable exceptions–the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, which is rendered by a actors manipulating an intensely-backlit dressmaker’s dummy; and Polonius, who is “played” in most scenes by a colorful clown costume on a hanger, except in the memorable and somewhat disturbing take on the scene in which Polonius offers Laertes advice before Laertes returns to school and then warns Ophelia concerning Hamlet’s romantic attentions. I say “disturbing” because it’s not entirely clear if Henderson is supposed to simply be Polonius in these scenes, or if he is portraying Hamlet-as-Polonius. The reactions of Bonfoglio and Theby-Quinn certainly suggest that something isn’t exactly right.  And then there are the scenes where famous speeches are delivered several times by different characters, or when the characters break into song, such as Gertrude absently singing The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and Ophelia’s darkly jarring rendition of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” at a key moment.

This is a take on Hamlet that recasts the story as more of a dark farce than a straightforward tragedy, and it works surprisingly well, with the staging and characterizations in keeping with that style, and it’s also all very 2014. Claudius’s “crown” is golf club. Hamlet wields a large, shiny pair of sewing scissors as a sword in one scene, and he and Laertes duel with garden clippers in another. Hamlet and Ophelia share a ballet-inspired dance as Ophelia chats with her father on a cell phone. Bright LED flashlights, sounds of sewing machines, rain, and ominous music help set the scene and the mood, and in a particularly intriguing conceit, character deaths are portrayed by having them remove their costumes, leaving their “shed skin” behind.  Hamlet and Horatio play out something of a volatile “bromance”,with the rich-voiced Henderson portraying a Hamlet who is alternately sympathetic and downright menacing, and Eagles–who physically reminds me of Harry Potter–in an endearing performance as a noble, hipsterish Horatio. Theby-Quinn, in an excellent turn as a particularly intense Ophelia, swings wildly from coquettish to annoyed to fiercely unhinged, pelting the other characters with spools of thread that represent herbs in the most violent rendition I’ve seen of her well-known “madness” scene. These three are the real stand-outs in this cast as far as I’m concerned, and I was especially surprised at how much emphasis this production focuses on Horatio specifically.  All six players put in good work, however, and the ensemble scenes are well-staged and convincingly played, concluding in a truly riveting finale.

I feel so much at a loss to adequately describe everything that goes on with this production. I could overuse adjectives like “bold”, “daring”, “dark”, “witty”, “audacious”, etc. This production certainly is all those things, and it takes the Hamlet story and the characters in directions that I’d never thought of before. I’m sure it will be the catalyst for some excellent conversations about this play, its characters, and what it all means.  As wonderful as the cast is, much of the credit for the success of this production goes to Cashion, who not only adapted and directed it, but also designed the set and the wonderful sound effects.  It’s such a fully realized, consistent vision, played out expertly by this great cast and crew.

 There’s a lot of Shakespeare happening in St. Louis this week, with the celebration of the Bard’s 450th birthday and Shake 38 taking the Bard’s works to various neighborhoods and venues throughout the area.  Even the midst of all those works, however, this one is a must-see. As a truly challenging, entertaining and engaging new presentation of an oft-performed show, ERA’s Make Hamlet is a winner.  It’s a Hamlet for the 21st century, and it’s not to be missed.

Will Bonfligio, Nick Henderson Photo by Katrin Hackenberg Equally Represented Arts

Will Bonfligio, Nick Henderson
Photo by Katrin Hackenberg
Equally Represented Arts

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