Hamlet: timeless and brand new

Photo by Amy Anderson.

If there is one word in theater that’s recognized globally, it must be “Hamlet;” to take on this play is a somber responsibility. Park Square Theatre, under the guiding hand of director and scenic designer Joel Sass, has opened a fresh, new production of this timeless wonder. Stunning to look at, fascinating in it’s time-warping, thought-provoking in its gender assignments, this Hamlet will make you think again about the play you thought you knew.

Sass has built the play in and around a cube at center stage and set off kilter, not “right with the world,” outlined in neon that washes the space in a full spectrum of colors. This also provides a framework for the production’s brilliant use of projections: the faces of the characters reciting a prologue of sorts, ambient patterns, fabric falling to the floor, and the suggestion of locale. These visuals guide us through a version of the play stripped down to a handful of characters and major plot points.

Stripped down, but not anything less. Instead, the most powerful aspects of the play seem to flourish in the breathing space they’re given.

Claudius, played by Charles Hubbell, stands full front, talking to everyone but no one. Hubbell’s portrayal is stark, detached, chilling, especially alongside his Gertrude, a shallow woman in Sandra Struthers’ performance, not up to the task of fully supporting her new husband, or her tortured son. Rather than throw Gertrude and Hamlet into each other’s arms, Sass underscores the tension between the two with physical space – a space we know cannot be overcome. Struthers underplays the scene with great finesse.

Ophelia’s mad scene was so unusual and beautifully portrayed by Maeve Coleen Moynihan. The naïve young girl we met early in the play blossomed and withered right before our eyes. Moynihan was simply mesmerizing.

Two gender-altered characters were less effective, but not because Horatio and Polonius (Polonia) were female. These two characters have very specific jobs to do in this play and that’s where the interpretation got a bit muddied.

Horatio as Hamlet’s friend is the one character who rises above the madness and endures to tell Hamlet’s story. In Kathryn Fumie’s interpretation of the role, it seemed more a matter of luck than a result of Horatio’s character. Fumie’s Horatio has a vaguely rock –n roll persona, a possible loose cannon herself, rather than the steadying influence the lines suggest to me.

Tinne Rosenbeier’s Polonia is neither a silly old fool nor a menacing conspirator, which made for a characterization that had little to contribute to the tension or humor. And instead of seeing the emotional closeness she has with her children, we see Polonia barking orders, scowling and stomping off. So why would this send Ophelia into madness?

But this play is about Hamlet, the perfectly enigmatic young man thrust into the role of avenger, barely staying “afloat” in his grief. We “figure him out” over and over again because we’ve never completely figured him out. We look to the next “Hamlet” to shed more light, and the good ones always do.

In Kory LaQuess Pullam’s case, Hamlet is as young as I imagined he should be – a college boy, really. Bright, capable, but pushed to the edge in his rage over his father’s murder. Pullam owned the famous soliloquies – one dropped in the midst of the play within a play, and ending on “and lose the name of action,” which brought the action of the scene back to life. A bit of an obvious device, but it worked like a dream. He also pinned every sarcastic remark to the wall, perfectly timing his one liners; the comic moments made him all the more endearing.

I would have liked him to use a more natural voice more often, with less shouting and “crying,” but ultimately, his interpretation was deeply satisfying: not a madman, a faithless lover or friend, or a danger to the state. This Hamlet was just “sweet prince.”

Lighting, sound and video projections were wonderfully wedded to the action of the play. Kudos to lighting designer Michael P. Kittel, sound designer C Andrew Mayer, and video designer Kathy Maxwell.


Janet Preus is an editor, playwright and director living in Minneapolis and Northern Minnesota.

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