CCM’s “Hamlet” is Strong and New

Review by Shawn Maus of Hamlet: CCM Acting

Any staging of Hamlet has an enormous responsibility: engagement with Shakespeare’s text, clarity or confusion about place, and character. Director Susan Felder has beautifully made everything fall into place with the College-Conservatory of Music’s production of Hamlet.

Hamlet has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I have read it many times since my college days, and each time I experience something new.  But I have to say Felder’s Hamlet drove the experience right to the heart.

This is the kind of evening of which legends are made, one of those rare theatre nights that those who were present are never likely to forget. Certainly the performance of “Hamlet” I witnessed on Thursday night at the College-Conservatory of Music will remain in my mind and heart forever.

Rupert Sprahl is Hamlet. I read that Hamlet was an unfinished character and that the missing piece is found in the soul of the actor playing him.  Sprahl has put his heart and soul into the Danish prince.

Spraul has a gift for suggesting Hamlet’s essential decency. He doesn’t play the Dane as melancholic, but is moved by a strong new reading of the material.  He has all the drive and innocence of adolescence and the unbearable pain of a studious, fun, free-thinking college student who returns home to find that his family has imploded and nothing makes sense any more.

Spraul’s Hamlet fences with the best, throws Ophelia to the floor during his ”Get thee to a nunnery!” speech, and wrestles his mother during the closet scene. Spraul is able to disappear into the play and the character, with his bold, silvery voice, statuesque physique, blond locks, and the kind of handsomeness that will have adolescent girls swooning in the aisles. He presents the most raw and vulnerable Hamlet I have ever seen. Even his soliloquies are fresh, unique and insightful.

But Spraul doesn’t do it alone. Each cast member distinguishes themselves throughout the production. They demonstrate a command of the text and the ability to convey its poetry and meaning, breathing life into their scenes with deep affection.

Gabriella Divincenzo, as Horatio, makes a striking impression.  As Hamlet’s best friend, Divincenzo gives a new depth and perspective to Horatio.  As a female Horatio, Divincenzo makes a tremendous impact on the Hamlet/Horatio friendship.  Her performance brings some of the most emotional and memorable moments of the relationship.

Nicholas Heffelfinger’s Laeartes shows a real passion for family and as a protective brother.  His affection for Ophelia is palpable and his sword fighting is a swashbuckling.  The duel, efficiently choreographed by Gina Mechley, was breathtaking and convincing.  It was designed to get as much significance, beauty and action from the actor’s moving bodies.

Kenzie Clark’s Ophelia is nuanced, bringing an emotional complexity to the character that commands attention; with a vivid performance that makes sense of what is normally missed in understanding why Ophelia goes mad.

Felder’s daring 1920’s modern dress production works superbly.  Set in the decade following the First World War, scenic designer Logan Greenwell has made homage to Olivier’s 1948 film production of Hamlet using a flattened, somber set with hints of twisting, maze-like corridors.

The set is a monumental castle design that is successful because it directs the eye towards the performer, yet is in observance with the modernism of everything else. The lighting design by Oliver Tidwell Littleton is a huge gift in directing one’s attention to the actors and the plot.  It’s like a Caravaggio painting.

Costumer Designer Ashely Berg brings an unexpected freshness, vibrant and sexy feel to the 20’s era without looking like gangsters and their gun molls.

CCM has made this old, and perhaps over familiar, play suddenly strong, wonderfully fresh, urgent and young again.

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