Review by Liz Eichler, LCT
William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is often named one of the best plays ever written. It has been produced and filmed countless times around the world, including a few stellar productions at CIncinnati Shakespeare Company. Now it is reimagined by Shakespeare Scholar and Guest Director Sarah Lynn Brown with the arresting Sara Clark as the title character. Yes, it is different but you will find an imaginative, inclusive, often funny, and moving story, simply a different flavor of the smorgasbord which is Hamlet.
Hamlet is the story of a likable Danish royal college student, called back from studying in Germany because of the death of her father the King, then she also discovers mother Gertrude (Sara Mackie) remarried. She has feelings. Feelings of godlessness and loss of a parent and betrayal enough for a year in counseling, but on top of that her father’s ghost (Jared Joplin) beckons to her, revealing it was the uncle/mom’s new husband (Jim Hopkins) who killed him. Hamlet is torn by the desire for revenge and the eternal damnation of being a murderer, the blindness of a mother who married the murdering uncle, and the business as usual regime. Action or inaction, life or suicide to escape these things. Instead of acting upon instincts with his uncle, she takes it out on everyone else first, including beloved Ophelia (Angelique Archer), friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (AJ Baldwin and Brianna Miller), Laertes (Crystian Wiltshire) but supported by buddy Horatio (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II).
This production as a whole is satisfying. It is fast paced, visual, and it appears influenced by the late 80’s/early 90’s with Doc Martens, plaids, and peplums.
“Words, words, words –switching he/hims for she/hers, gives a new meaning to the phrase “Man delights not me.” Sara Clark, has the youthful perkiness and look of a young Winona Rider, likable but fragile. Hamlet has always been a juicy role to peel off the layers for any actor, there is so much depth in understanding the psychology and motivation. One of her most memorable moments is the minute of maniacal laughter we are left with before intermission. Yet overall she presents Hamlet calculated, mature and in control. If Hamlet is a college student, one wonders if there’d be more quiet places, sullen, or helpless, demonstrating “I have of late lost all my mirth.” This Hamlet consistently uses wit as her shield. (Sometimes it is the funny ones who are the saddest.)
Clark is a formidable Hamlet but the visuals define this production. The set (Samantha Reno) and media design (Brave Berlin) are central–literally. While “all the world’s a stage” the focal point is the grave, and the men and women in the cast are on stage throughout, well lit (Justen N. Locke). The video montages are phrenetic and filmed live during the show–adding an intriguing layer and deliciously awkward angles (by Colleen Dougherty, Player, who also does a lot of social media for CSC). In fact, that is the most refreshing differentiating factor that communicates to the audience the monkey mind of the college student, bombarded with images, words, feelings, figuring out how to make sense of the world. It’s not all wild images, as the subtitles in the projections help the audience track progress through the play, helpful for “bardolators” (Shakespeare lovers) and school groups. The clothing (Abbi Howson) for some is great–all the men look well tailored and an effective use of white throughout. Choices for Ophelia and Gertrude confused me, on so many levels, fighting with the brilliant acting of the two performers.
Audiences will love the Players (Cary Davenport, Colleen Daugherty, Courtney Lucien and Nathan Sullivan), Polonius and the gravedigger (both played with warmth and an abundance of fun by “ranney”).
Three years. That’s how long Cincinnati had to wait to see Sara Clark in Sarah Lynn Brown’s “Hamlet.” And it is worth the Covid-induced wait. It’s not your average vanilla Hamlet, but a vibrant, flavorful take that reflects our times. Bring your sons and daughters, maybe even your mom and uncle to CSC’s “Hamlet” playing now through March 20. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Liz Eichler, MTA, MBA has taught college students for almost 20 years, marketing, communications, theatre, and costumes.