Full ‘Hamlet’ enriches familiar story

This Show is part of Bard Fest, central Indiana’s annual Shakespeare festival. Info and tickets at www.indybardfest.com.

By Wendy Carson

By now we all know the story of Hamlet. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays and you’ve likely seen more than one version of it. However, Doug Powers and the Carmel Theatre Company have chosen to give us a different take by giving us an almost entirely unabridged look at the play.

Before you balk at the 3-plus hour running length (with intermission), note that with these rarely acted scenes returned to the story, it just deepens the richness of the characters. It also brings the secondary plot forward (remember Norway?) bringing more closure and purpose to many of the characters.

Honestly, I had forgotten many of the scenes and speeches performed and was touched by the true beauty of not only their narrative but the language itself.

Also, the starkness of the stage and minimalist set pieces help remind you that this show is about listening to and understanding the characters. In order to fulfill this task, one must have great actors and Powers has outdone himself in procuring them.

Brian G. Hartz sizzles as Hamlet, pulling forth all of the rage and deviousness that the character embodies. Miranda Nehrig turns Ophelia into a young woman who’s confusion and frustrations over Hamlet’s behavior help lead her to her desperate end. Both have skill in communicating beyond saying the lines, especially Nehrig’s talent for adding volumes with a single facial expression.

Eric Bryant as Claudius and Jean Arnold as Gertrude present the quintessential parents who are bewildered as to why their son has so quickly changed his demeanor. Their recent nuptials so soon after the previous King’s untimely death never cross their mind as a possible reason.

While most of the Bard Fest offerings have cast women in several men’s roles, Powers uses his casting choices to their maximum effect. Jo Bennett plays Horatio as a dear friend but in later scenes there seems to be romantic tension, which they pull off with great aplomb.

However, the best example of this is with the character of Guildenstern, played by Gorgi Parks Fulper. Instructed to play upon her history with Hamlet to obtain information, she is asked to use her feminine wiles. Meanwhile, Benjamin Mathis plays Rosencrantz as the perfect second banana who seems to always be left out of the whole scheme.

Alan Cloe is perfect as wise but tragic Polonius. Noah Winston is a fiery force as his son, Laertes.

Casting is also clever in its players with two or more roles: Fulper and Mathis also play palace guards in the opening scene. Janice Hibbard is the messenger to Norway, and later is that country’s warrior princess Fortinbras. The ghost of murdered King Hamlet (the title character’s dad) is portrayed by Tony Armstrong, who also plays an identical character in the play-within-the-play that Hamlet (the younger) sets up to watch his stepfather’s reaction; later Armstrong is the gravedigger who unearths Yorick’s skull.

In addition, kudos to Rachel Snyder and Kyrsten Lyster as members of the traveling troupe of Players.

There is some intense swordplay in this production, so credit is due to Bryant as fight choreographer.

Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 Saturday (with talkback following) and 1 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 25-27) at the IndyFringe Theatre.

Review: Great Dane on the Westside

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)