This Sunday I spent the afternoon at Meadow at Evergreen enjoying the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s performance of HAMLET.
I love to see Shakespeare live, and especially love to see it live outdoors, and super especially love to see it live outdoors the way Shakespeare’s audiences would have seen it 400 years ago. So I put aside my dislike for summer weather and bugs (I came prepared with bug spray, a sun hat, sun screen and lots of ice water) and headed into Baltimore for some murder and mayhem — Tudor Style.
Tom Delise, The Factory’s Artistic Director and the director of this production, used a light touch when it came to staging. A single set piece standing in for Elsinore Castle rises from a simple wooden platform. Three red curtains allow the actors access on and off stage. But Delise has his actors using all of the Meadow, so the actors are moving up and down aisles and entering from behind the audience too.
Unlike the 1,500 to 3,000 people who went to see the original play in the Globe Theatre, audience members in the Meadow have an intimate connection with the actors. Engaging the audience is one of The Factory’s core principles, and at times it felt like Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude and the rest were talking right to me. That really draws you into the action, and gives you a stake in what happens in the plot.
Given that just about every high school student reads Hamlet for some English class between 9th and 12th grade, and most people have seen at least one film version of the play its a pretty good bet that you’ll know the plot and at least some of the lines before the show begins. That’s helpful because this production is fast paced, and if you didn’t already have a little knowledge of what was going on you might get overwhelmed. And when I say fast paced I mean tight, as in TIGHT. As in sweetly, seamlessly: bam, bam, bam; scene, scene, scene. It’s no wonder they got this notoriously long play (it’s Shakespeare’s longest) down to about 2 hours 40 minutes. Very impressive. (Although the only “complaint” I have is that without breaking for scene changes I couldn’t CLAP! And I really wanted to clap.)
The Factory has several actors playing multiple roles. Hugh F. Hill, III was vain and a little evil as Claudius and wonderfully creepy as the zombie like Ghost. Frank Vince was funny as the annoyingly dotting father Polonius and as the pious Priest. James Miller intense as Laertes and animated as the Player King. Jess Behar and Katherine Vary were wonderful as the sycophantic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They also played Francisco and Bernardo. Jim Stimson is both in the ensemble and is lead musician for the group (he plays a mean lute and guitar). Poor Amy Parochetti and Chris Ryder played 12 roles between them!
Other actors had one role.
I liked Kelly Dowling’s tender/tough approach to Gertrude. And I loved the heart-break and surprise she brought to the stage when her character realizes what a mess her life suddenly has become.
Chris Cotterman plays my favorite character in the show, Horatio. It’s a tough role because he’s the best friend, the second guy. He can’t upstage Hamlet (literally) and Chris doesn’t. He plays the supporting role (both in the character’s life and on stage) perfectly.
Ann Turiano is lovely as Ophelia. Her confusion over familial duty and her suddenly rocky love life in the first half is tender and heartbreaking, but its her mad scenes in the second half that steal the show.
I last saw Ian Blackwell Rogers as the title character in The Factory’s Macbeth. He brings the same energy and intensity here. It is hard to take your eyes off of him as you try to puzzle out what’s going on in that head of his. As the lines spill out of him at break neck speed he keeps you engaged and on point with the plot.
As hot as it was on Sunday I expected the actors to lose some gusto as the show went on, but the opposite happened. As they plowed into Acts Three, Four and Five they only got more intense. By the time Hamlet and Laertes were at each other’s throats my heart was pounding. And it didn’t have anything to do with the temperature.
Click HERE to read the Today in MD Theatre Guide Review.