By John Lyle Belden
Regarded as one of the greatest dramas of all time, if not the greatest, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” by William Shakespeare, has seen numerous stagings, including the occasional production in central Indiana.
The trick is to make a portrayal of the old familiar story something new, yet still true to the Bard. First Folio Productions and Wayne Township Community Theatre manage that quite deftly with their “Hamlet,” which has one weekend left (Friday through Sunday) at the WTCT home stage, the Ben Davis High School auditorium on Indy’s west side.
The story stays the same – Prince Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father, the King, whose brother, now married to the Queen, murdered him. Hamlet then devises plans to test his uncle’s conscience, then to take his revenge, all while acting like a lunatic. People die; Hamlet cheats death on a cruise to England, then comes home to talk to a skull; then everyone dies except Hamlet’s buddy, Horatio. (If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, then by all means, go see the show!)
The twists employed by First Folio are to set the play in a steampunk circa-1900 version of Denmark, and to edit this very long drama down to two one-hour acts. (Rosencranz and Guildenstern never appear, and are not even named when it’s revealed they will die.) The latter is well executed, and aside from the omission just noted, hardly noticeable. As for the fine skirts and Edwardian suits with goggled hats and other Jules Verne chic, it is all tastefully done, creating an alternative world that is somehow timeless. As in all alternative-setting Shakespeare plays, the original language is left intact.
But the play’s the thing, as someone once said. And this play is a very good thing, with a great cast. Carey Shea holds our attention, charms and exhibits his full range as Hamlet. Devan Mathias pulls our heartstrings as tragic Ophelia. Matt Anderson is masterful as crafty King Claudius. Erika Barker portrays well the conflicted soul of Queen Gertrude. And Chris Burton steals scenes in dual roles as the “lead player” of the play-within-the-play and the busy Gravedigger.
Director Glenn L. Dobbs (kudos to him) asked me to also note there are some funny moments (and there are) in this otherwise tragic work. It is overall a truly entertaining production, to be sure.
For more information and tickets, click on “Hamlet Show Information” at www.firstfolioproductions.org.
(Also published at The Word)