From the moment Hamlet begins, in darkness with only a weak light from the soldier Francisco’s lantern as he creeps around the perimeter of the stage/castle on his nightly rounds, the audience is completely engaged in the action on stage. We immediately enter the dark and troubled world that is Elsinore Castle, and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Director Kate LoConti Alcocer and her team have masterfully staged this Hamlet with a clear and unified vision that is truly compelling. She creates a visceral experience from minute one that only intensifies as the tragedy unfolds. She constructs images that blend the talents of the actors, sound, set, lighting, and costume designers to produce an emotional experience that will not soon be forgotten. For instance…
In Act One, when Hamlet and Ophelia first meet upon Hamlet’s return to Elsinore, they stand across the stage from one another, awkward and unsure. The music then suddenly heightens into a romantic orchestral piece. They rush to each other center stage, a spotlight bathing them while they passionately kiss. Then the moment is over. The music stops. They return to their places, awkward and unsure. Costumed by Jessica Wegrzyn in modern, but not contemporary dress, they are like the lovers in a 1950s movie, circumstantially separated and full of repressed desire. This short scene speaks volumes about the power of imagery to swiftly expose true feelings and desires. Certainly not in the original production, it nevertheless feels like an integral part of the play. Other images in the play also produce this effect.
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, is full of words, words, words—some of the most famous in the English language. In just over three hours including intermission, many of those words are spoken by the Prince himself. So as the prince goes, so goes the play.
Anthony Alcocer (a close relative of the Director) is a terrific Hamlet. From his petulant school boy, I’m-not-even-going-to-look-at-you-Claudius entrance, to his final words, Mr. Alcocer embodies the grief-stricken, angry, confused, heart-broken young man who is ripped to shreds by the loss of his father, by his mother’s betrayal, and then by the demands of his father’s ghost. His emotions are heart-wrenching, palpable. He is completely committed, completely open, never holds back, and has great range of feeling. He passionately expresses his rage and grief, then quietly contemplates the sadness that underlies them. He horrifies himself and everyone else by his deliberately vicious treatment of Ophelia. He is tortured and confused by not knowing if the ghost is his father or a manifestation of the Devil. He is tormented by his love for his mother and his anger at her betrayal. He nostalgically, almost sweetly, tells Horatio about his childhood memories of Yorick. He makes a flippant, offhand remark with a sardonic smile, and is then in a rage a moment later. His initial laughter and joy at the beginning of the sword competition with Laertes in the denouement is a window into what might have been for this young prince, raised by loving parents to become king. I can only think how exhausting and exhilarating an experience this Hamlet must be for the very talented Mr. Alcocer, who in an interview stated this is the role he has most wanted to play.
He is surrounded and supported by an excellent cast that are very much up to the mark in this challenging play.
Anna Krempholtz comes into her own as Ophelia when she is attacked by Hamlet and goes mad after the death of Polonius. She makes a very believable grief-stricken young woman driven insane by Hamlet’s abuse and her father’s death, singing and dancing, playing the flute, handing out herbs and flowers while she sinks deeper into despair.
Rolando Martin Gómez is very otherworldly indeed in his role as the Ghost. Without even the benefit of creepy makeup, he moves as one too tired to lift his foot, with a slight reverb in his voice that enhances his ghostly speech. Later he is all laughter and mirth as the Player King.
Chris Kelly is excellent as Polonius, the verbose counselor to the king and father of Ophelia and Laertes. He expertly expounds at length on matters that are often contradictory. He also has fun with his small role as the Gravedigger, using an accent that would require subtitles were this play a movie.
Kristin Tripp Kelly is an elegant Gertrude who keeps her emotions in check until her love for her tormented son overcomes her reticence.
Matt Witten plays Claudius as a calculating and restrained villain, who shows little passion and whose one, dark-night-of-the-soul moment is quickly replaced by his next nefarious plan to solidify his position.
Adam Yellen is a great, loving friend as Horatio, and Patrick Cameron as Laertes is very good as he expresses his love for Hamlet after his rage at him over the death of Polonius. Peter S. Raimondo and Jake Hayes round out this excellent cast as the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and others.
The fight scenes, choreographed by Adam Rath, are realistic and scary. Lighting Design by Brian Cavanagh and Sound Design by Tom Makar enchance the entire production while never overwhelming the action, as in the eerie sounds and weak lighting in the opening scene. Jessica Wegrzyn’s set intensifies the sense of things being all awry, as mismatched chairs are strewn about, an old ladder leans up against a table, paint cans act as stools. These are all inside a three-sided wooden structure without walls, everything unfinished. Her costumes aid in defining the characters, from Gertrude’s stunning blue satin gown, to the Ghost’s long grey double-breasted overcoat hanging loose on his shoulders, to Horatio’s preppy V-neck sweater and Hamlet’s completely black ensemble.
The expressions and movements of the actors are in very close proximity to the audience in the small, intimate space of the Andrews Theatre. Souls are laid bare for all to see and absolutely nothing is held back. Kate LoConti Alcocer has given us a Hamlet to remember.
Kudos to all.
You can see it at Irish Classical Theatre Company in the Andrews Theatre through May 19th.