What if nothing that happened to Lord Hamlet actually happened to Lord Hamlet.
That’s the question We Happy Few’s production of Hamlet attempts to explore. And they do a wonderful job doing so.
This is, by far, my favorite Shakespearian play if not my favorite play ever written (Only Rosnecrantz and Guildenstern are Dead comes close and, obviously, it’s derived from the same place).
The production featured just six actors, who all play several different parts, adding to the eerie atmosphere and the question “what here is real, and what is he imagining?” Slight costume changes are had, but extremely slight. There’s three props: a small chest and two knives.
Chris Genebach gives a tour-de-force performance as a Hamlet so stuck in his own neurosis, the line between reality and fantasy has blended in the darkest way possible. If dark’s what this troupe was going for, it certainly succeeded. The play has never seemed more filled with hatred, nefariousness and violence.
Raven Bonniwell is another standout, playing a lovely and sweet Ophelia, lost in the world, and a side-splitting Rosencranz to Billy Finn’s Guildenstern. She handles Shakespearian dialogue as if it’s her natural language, her inflection consistently adding volumes to the text.
Finn also deserves praise for his portrayal of Laertes, and the final Fight Club-esque fight scene between Finn and Genebach is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen staged.
Praise also has to be given to the sound crew. There’s an atmospheric eeriness playing the entire time in the room, adding to this idea that something isn’t quite right. What the play does best is never addressing this fact, but leaving it up to the audience to decide what is and what isn’t.
If there are complaints to be had, they’re slight. It started off a tad bit stiff, but it should be noted this was opening night. Sandy Bainum’s portrayal of Gertrude felt a little forced at times, but her portrayal of the grave digger who is robbing Ophelia’s body was hilarious and creepy, as it should be. Gordon Adams was a fine Polonious, but he seemed somewhat like the same character when he played Bernardo, the Player King and the Priest.
Again, these are slight. The room is a small black box with wrap-around seating, and what the play does best is make the audience feel uncomfortable. Hamlet is not a comfortable play. It’s not light in subject manner nor in theme. There are comedic passengers, which this crew handle as if trained in comedy (and let’s be honest: comedy in Shakespearian language isn’t generally laugh-out-loud funny).
It’s an interesting take on a great play, and anyone who enjoys Hamlet should see it. Newcomers to the play might be lost amidst the character changes, and I think it requires a little knowledge of the story to fully appreciate those changes. Nonetheless, it’s a play worth seeing and a production worthy of its namesake.
Hamlet has performance thru July 28, 2012 at Mead Theatre Lab – Flashpoint 916 G St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets