At dusk yesterday, the stage lights of Olney Theatre Center’s outdoor Root Family Stage shined bright, as the National Players enlightened the audience with their imaginative take on the Bard’s darkest tragedy: Hamlet. Directed by Jason King Jones, the production is the National Players’ first rendition of the Prince of Denmark’s story in over 30 years, and is quite the spectacle, with specific design, well-choreographed sequences, and ardent performances.
Since its manifestation in the late 1500s, Hamlet has become Shakespeare’s most popular play to recreate, and has been done so on the stage and screen, including a film adaptation in which a lion cub learns the meaning of “Hakuna Matata.” The play has served as one of the starting points of revenged-based plots in mainstream entertainment, while handling vastly examined themes including but not limited to insanity, lust, murder, and betrayal.
The National Players added to the rich content with inventive artistic and production design, setting the play in a 1900s, war-ridden Denmark.The rather small outdoor stage allowed for a humble, yet intriguing set, designed by Paige Hathaway. This consisted of a stationary background piece made of wooden panels, that opened to be used as cabinets, to reveal portraits, and even to be used as hidden doorways. Wooden acting blocks and a large wooden table were inventively used in a myriad of settings, transforming to whatever structures needed to tell the story, from the tables and chairs of the great hall of Elsinore to the cascats used by the Gravedigger.
Seth Gilbert’s costume design cleverly relied on colors to identify characters and motives, white establishing the time period. Claudius wore an elegant green long coat, with golden lining to symbolize his wealth, but also his ambition and greed. Likewise, Gertrude wore a refined green loyal gown, with the green adhering to her inner guilt for marrying her late husband’s brother. Polonius and his children all wore earth tones, signifying their groundedness and desire to maintain order.
Keeping to tradition Hamlet wore black, indicating the character’s depression and association with death. However, this Hamlet was given an edge with a black combat boots and a black leather glove.
Sarah Tundermann’s lighting design also applied the use of colors to the story telling having daunting blue light for the entrances of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, red light for scenes with bloodshed, among other colors used. Given that the performance began at sundown, the diminishing daylight went perfectly in tandem with the increasing darkness of Hamlet’s tale.
Unfortunately, due to the show being outdoors and that the actors not being miced, it was hard to hear, primarily for those sitting further from the stage. The sound effects, designed by Roc Lee, did contribute to the play’s overall aesthetic, but ringing feedback from the sound system occasionally drowned out the the actors. I am hopeful that these problems were corrected before the next performance.
The performances were superb. As the titular Dane, Jered Hobbs displayed the many “faces” of Hamlet, playing on the his charm, along with his melancholy and intensity. Through numerous well-delivered soliloquies, Hobbs created a complex, contemplative character that eventually became completely unhinged.Playing opposite of Hobbs as Claudius, Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo was engaging with his commanding voice and gravitas, while also demonstrating Claudius’ guilt and vulnerability, particular in the scene where he attempts to pray, but finds himself emotionally and spiritually unfit to do so.
Garcia-Bustelo was also giving the task of also playing the Ghost of Hamlet, and did so with a heavy physicality that was distinct from that he gave to Claudius.
As Hamlet’s would-be brinde, Lynn Favin gave Ophelia a drastic character arc as she struggled with losing Hamlet’s affection as well as her own sanity. Favin highlighted Ophelia’s descent into madness by beginning as an earnest, naive lover, and then devolving into a child-like comportment, singing each of her lines, and even coddling a teddy bear.
Adam Turck was brilliant as Ophelia’s brother Laertes. He portrayed him as passionate, tragic hero, seeking to avenge the deaths of his loved ones, therefore making a sympathetic character. In addition to Laertes, Turck energetically played several minor characters, and brought individuality to each.
Hamlet is one of the three shows the National Players are touring with this season, and is currently playing with no cost for admission as a part of the “Free Outdoor Shakespeare” program at Olney Theatre Center. For those interested in attending this exciting theatre experience, be sure to bring a blanket or foldable chair to attain the best seating.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Hamlet plays through August 28, 2016 at The National Players, at Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Free Summer Shakespeare,’ performing at the Root Theatre – 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. To reserve your free tickets, go online.