That Within Which Passes Show—HAMLET in the Hedgerows

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Like last season, Rose Valley’s Hedgerow Theatre has chosen one of the Bard’s tragedies as their Fall thriller. And HAMLET is full of thrills and chills as we watch the goings on in Elsinore Castle. Directed by Dan Hodge, Shakespeare’s tragedy about the Prince of Denmark unfolds on the Hedgerow stage from October 23rd thru November 23rd, 2014.

Written between 1559 and 1601, HAMLET is Shakespeare’s most popular play, both at its premiere and throughout time until present day. The piece is one of the most powerful in English literature. It is a story of revenge, inspired by a number of sources—including a 12th century prose work entitled Histories Tragiques (which contains the tale of a Danish prince who feigns madness to exact revenge upon a usurping uncle). Three different early versions of the play have been found: the First Quarto (Q1, 1603), the Second Quarto (Q2, 1604), and the First Folio (F1, 1623). Each one contains dialogue—whole scenes even—not found in the other two. The structure and depth of HAMLET show a playwright in the full maturity of his craft. HAMLET has inspired considerable critical scrutiny, including a centuries-old debate regarding Hamlet’s hesitation to kill his uncle. Some see it as merely a plot device to prolong the action, while others argue it dramatizes the complex philosophical and ethical issues that surround cold-blooded murder, calculated revenge and thwarted desi

John Lopes in a scene from HAMLET, running at Hedgerow Theatre through November 23. (Photo credit: Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios)

re. In addition, the play is also Shakespeare’s longest; the title character alone has 1,530 lines! Director Hodge has judiciously adapted the work, paring things down to essential moments and characters that keep the plot moving without sacrificing the beauty of Shakespeare’s language. He states he wants viewers to “Get swept up in the story.” And that we do.

Hodge’s direction is clear and focused; the action flows from one sequence to the next with ease as this well-known tale is given new energy in an early 20th century timeframe. The choice of setting is a smart one. There were still a great deal of class distinctions and social conventions in the Edwardian era, yet it is a time close enough to be relatable to today’s audiences and allow the performers to show the lighter moments in the story.

The entire ensemble works wonderfully together, giving life to Elizabethan language in a way that is exceedingly accessible to 21st century theatregoers; all present, vibrant, fully realized people caught in a horrid situation. Hedgerow Fellows Brock Vickers and Joel Guerrero are wonderfully obsequious as Hamlet’s “friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and then seamlessly morph into Bernardo, Reynaldo, a sailor and a priest for Vickers, and Marcellus and a hilarious Osric for Guerrero. Fellow Company Member Colleen Marker turns in solid performances as a castle maidservant and The Player Queen. Frequent Guest Artist Stacy Skinner returns as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, a lonely woman who fell prey to her brother-in-law’s charm. Skinner shows a loving mother (and wife) torn apart by the events swirling around her. As Claudius, returning Guest Artist John Lopes channels every smarmy politician you can imagine to present a man deftly hiding his ambition with charm.

In an interesting casting choice that adds immensely to the characters’ interactions is the choice of returning Guest Artist Jennifer Summerfield to play Hamlet’s close friend Horatio. A gifted actor, Summerfield brings great strength to the role yet shows us feminine vulnerability as well. Hamlet’s only true ally and confidante, Summerfield’s Horatio gives hints of something deeper…we find ourselves wondering what might have been between these two people.

In addition to designing the simple yet elegant and serviceable set, long-time Hedgerovian Zoran Kovcic is terrific as both Polonius and the Gravedigger. His Polonius is the ultimate sycophant and his Gravedigger is a drunken fool. Guest Artist Robert DaPonte portrays both The Player King and Laertes. His turn as the latter is nuanced and well balanced. Annette Kaplafka, another Guest Artist, is riveting as Ophelia. Her performance in the mad scene was heart wrenching as she attempts to piece back together a letter from Hamlet that he had earlier torn in pieces. It was an interesting metaphor for trying to restore the order her life once had.

Artistic Director Jared Reed brings great depth to the title role of HAMLET. Under Hodge’s solid direction, Reed shows us a man of great intelligence, warmth and humor who is devastated by the death of his father and the sudden marriage of his mother and uncle. His delivery of the many famous soliloquies was well thought out and done in a conversational tone showing the character’s deep struggle with his conscience and his heart.

The technical side of the production is as strong as the performances, starting with lovely support work from Assistant Director Maura Krause. Matt Sharp’s lighting design makes great use of Hedgerow’s natural ambiance to evoke an ancient castle, as well as the necessary ghostly mood. Rusty Davenport’s sound design beautifully underscores the action throughout, particularly in the ghost scenes. Brian McCann has provided exciting Fight Choreography and Sarah Mitchell has given everyone beautiful costumes.

HAMLET is a terrific choice for this season of ghouls and goblins. Shakespeare’s tragedy is full of fears and intrigues—just the right tone for this time of year. And Hedgerow’s production brings a fresh new perspective to it that makes this four hundred year old play sizzle with vibrancy. Lovers of the bard will be pleased and those not familiar with his work will be greatly entertained. Hodge and his troupe of gifted players’ command of the language and their ability to invest these characters with vibrancy breathes new life into Shakespeare’s story.

by William Shakespeare
Adapted & Directed by Dan Hodge
October 23—November 23, 2014
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Media, PA 19063

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