Review: ‘Hamlet’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet is a wonderful way to kick off their new season. Directed by Sally Boyett, the show sets Shakespeare’s classic play in modern dress, combining terrific acting with inventive lighting and sound, along with lovely movements in inter-scene pieces to create a haunted atmosphere full of tragic potential.

Stephen Kime in ‘Hamlet.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Stephen Kime plays Hamlet with tremendous passion, verging at times on violence. Contempt fills his voice as he talks to Claudius (Dexter Hamlett) and Polonius (John Pruessner). His “Get thee to a nunnery” scene with Ophelia (Grace Brockway) is brutal in its hatred, and he is physical with her in several inter-scene pieces. He gets terrifyingly physical with Gertrude (Ashly Fishell-Shaffer), hurling her onto an ottoman, pulling her hair, and grabbing her wrists. He delivers the famous soliloquies naturally, almost casually, yet frequently ends up on his knees in deep emotion.

Dexter Hamlett plays Claudius with power and authority. His talking down of Laertes (Seamus Miller), who is about to do violence to the court, is fascinating to watch. He gives his most powerful performance during his soliloquy, dropping to his knees and wondering how he can be forgiven for his crimes. Hamlett also plays the voice of the Ghost, his speech full of power. This viewer kept thinking Hamlett was behind him, speaking from the audience.

Ashly Fishell-Shaffer gives Gertrude a quiet grace. She whimpers and groans at Kime’s assault, falling to the floor in fear. It is almost hard to watch. Still, she reaches for him, trying to protect him. She embraces and kisses Hamlett passionately. Her reaction in a silent inter-scene piece is incredibly powerful, conveying everything in shocked silence.

Grace Brockway in ‘Hamlet.’ Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Grace Brockway gives a tremendous performance as Ophelia, playing her with incredible strength. She responds perfectly to Kime’s “nunnery” attack, falling to her knees and moaning in anguish. She gives her most powerful performances during her mad scenes, clutching and clawing at herself while her voice is full of anguish, and she grasps the floor. She also has several compelling inter-scene pieces which are full of emotion, while being completely silent.

John Pruessner plays Polonius with extreme self-importance. Hamlett and Fishell-Shaffer look exasperated at his long-winded speeches, and his dumbfounded reaction to Kime’s quips and insults are spot on. He can be commanding though with Brockway, ordering her about the stage. Pruessner also plays the Gravedigger, verbally jousting with Kime to great comic effect. 

Seamus Miller makes a powerful transformation as Laertes. Starting the play innocent and carefree, his voice is full of rage and revenge later. He storms the court, promising violence. He attacks Kime, wrestling him to the ground and strangling him until restrained. 

John Posner and Jacqueline Daaleman play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with hidden depths. Seemingly friendly with Kime at first, Daaleman even laughs at Kime’s thoughts. Later, though, they reveal darker sides in the inter-scene pieces, and there is an edge to their voices at the end. Dressed so differently from each other, there is a comic moment when Hamlett confuses the two.

Jason Hentrich, Roslyn Ward, Justino Brokaw, and Ethan Larsen are wonderful to watch as the Players. Hentrich gives the “Hecuba” speech with great passion, ending up on his knees with tears in his eyes. They move beautifully in the play within a play, dramatically carrying Hentrich to the floor for his death scene and swaying rhythmically throughout. Ward also plays Osric with a quiet authority, and Brokaw plays the second Gravedigger, the equal to Pruessner’s wit.

Scenic Designer Salydon Boyken has created a simple but effective set. A spiral staircase on the left leads to a small balcony with a door, while an archway is at the bottom, perfect for hiding and observing. On the right is a staircase with two landings, where the court gathers for the play within a play and Hamlet and Laertes’ duel. A large trunk is brought in for Laertes’ departure, and a long red ottoman for Gertrude’s bedroom. The backdrop is a screen on which Projections Designer Joshua McKerrow throws up abstract images of cracked mirrors and running water, red flashes flickering with the ghost.

Lighting Designer Adam Mendelson and Associate Lighting Designer Corey Goulden-Naitove use creative effects to heighten the mood. The lights dim as the Ghost appears, brightening as he departs. They darken for Claudius’ soliloquy and the play within a play. The inter-scene pieces balance light and darkness beautifully; one with Ophelia and Gertrude creates a chilling effect.

Sound Designers Steven Emminizer and Sally Boyett, as well as Audio Consultant Folger Ridout, highlight the haunted atmosphere with effective sound effects. Winds howl before the play starts, and mysterious music plays during the ghost’s appearances. Discordant music plays for Ophelia’s mad scenes. The Ghost’s speeches have a supernatural sound to them.

Sally Boyett is also the Costume Designer, creating simple but effective modern clothing, with Claudius and Polonius in three-piece suits, while the attendants are dressed as Secret Service agents, complete with handguns and earpieces. The Players are barefoot in black shirts and pants. One striking, clever choice is Rosencrantz in khaki pants, sport coat, and tie, while Guildenstern is a punk in a red leather jacket, combat boots, and a tight black dress.

Boyett (who also served as Fight Choreographer) and Fencing Consultant Kaz Campe make Hamlet and Laertes’ duel look realistic, while Voice and Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs ensures the actors deliver Shakespeare’s language clearly and naturally, even the intricate wordplay. Sally Boyett does a wonderful job as Director, having the actors move across the stage gracefully. The inter-scene pieces are particularly beautiful to watch and tell a story all their own, filling in the moments in between the play. This production perfectly demonstrates why Hamlet is such a timeless, classic work of theater. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission

Hamlet plays through October 28, 2019, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, 1804 West Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase them online.


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