As the sun sets and the full moon rises in tree-lined Rossmoor, Shakespeare by the Sea’s Hamlet goes through many moods. Even though the production begins and ends sadly with death there is a lot of funny in-between.
The full-length Hamlet is over four hours long, but director Stephanie Coltrin has shortened it to two hours by focusing on the internal politics, since the acting troupe is in a park setting. It feels like the complete play with the memorable parts like the Ghost, the romance between Ophelia and Prince Hamlet, the play within the play that is close to the circumstances to the dead king, the skull found by the gravediggers and the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. The performance is done in period. The only part that may appear contemporary is the backdrop on the stage, which Coltrin says could be ten years old. It’s all about stretching the budget, but a high-quality performance and hard work by all the actors and staff make up for any short-comings.
The stage is entirely black with two posts in the foreground, torn black material waving in the wind. Side-steps lead to the stage with another level in front of the creatively used background designed by Aaron Jackson. A large square frame is a broken mirror communicated by wood cut in the shape of spider cracks. A glossy clear material fills some of the mirror for the pieces that didn’t crack. Behind the mirror Polonius spies on Hamlet and the Ghost speaks to him.
In scenes that require half the cast, the colors of the costumes coordinate with the use of silver and black adding purples, blues and pinks for warmth. Costume designer, Christa Armendariz uses bright colors for the group of traveling actors. One is wearing yellow, orange and red vertical stripes. Ophelia wears a soft pink dress with a blue bodice. The sleeves have a sheer pink sleeve with some of the blue brocade material from the bodice and then ending with cream lace around the wrists. Gertrude wears an iridescent silver dress. Small diamond shapes create a pattern on the material.
Those who frequent SBTS’ productions may recognize Cylan Brown as Hamlet. This is his fifth year touring with the ensemble. He is enjoyable to watch in fight scenes where he can be caught practicing before the show. Brown’s Hamlet is a balance of drama and comedy. His relationship with Ophelia (Olivia Delgado) is sweet in the short time they have before he feigns madness. At one point he is seen walking through the park reading as a friend holds a lamp for him. The use of the park’s expanse is amusing and engrosses the audience. The Ghost, masked with sheer silver material, staggers through the audience as a deep voice speaks. Laertes (Nick Fawwaz) is a concerned brother of Ophelia’s and also a funny Player King in the group of traveling actors. Ophelia’s father Polonius (Charles M. Howell) is a rhyming comic relief with great comedic timing. Kristina Teves, Hamlet’s mother, plays a convincing Gertrude as she smugly says, “The lady doth protest too much.” Jay Castle’s Claudius can’t be bothered by his relations as he schemes against Hamlet using Ophelia. Claudius isn’t a likeable character as Castle and Teves are caught kissing, appearing shallow with no remorse of the loss of their king. Eventually, Castle is a guilt-ridden Claudius as he storms out of the play within a play.
Tyler Gray as the Player Queen speaks in a high-pitched voice, kissing the hands of the Player King. Delgado (Ophelia) is distraught as she speaks in a sweet voice walking along, giving many in the cast a flower, not making sense. Clearly she has gone mad, but we don’t see her drown; instead there is a funeral and burial. Laertes (Fawwaz) challenges Hamlet to a duel as he blames Hamlet for his sister’s death. There is a short duel as Laertes and Hamlet are quickly hurt, but mostly different motives of the characters play out with the poisoned wine and rapier. It makes for an exciting, duplicitous ending.
Shakespeare by the Sea’s Hamlet is dramatic, humorous, romantic and action-packed. This play has potential for being dark, but this production is fast-paced with plenty of comic relief.