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OSF Modernizes Method and Madness in “Hamlet”

Hamlet is considered to be Shakespeare’s psychological masterpiece, and the title role is considered to be one of the most challenging roles in all of acting history. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival hasn’t presented this piece in ten years, and present it this season in the Angus Bowmer theater.

HE SAID: Bill Rauch set this version of Hamlet entirely in the modern day, which worked surprisingly well. The advantage of this choice is that the class and status relationships that are sometimes difficult to discern from the Elizabethan text alone were made very clear. For example, the traveling players were presented as a popular hip-hop act on tour, which instantly conveyed that the younger characters (Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) should connect with the performance more than the King and Queen.

SHE SAID: I also think the modernization worked, and small touches (like security cameras on all the walls) reminded the audience of modern setting, as well as made the additional point that the royal family is under constant surveillance. It also opened up opportunities that might not be as easily conveyed otherwise. For example, Ophelia is outfitted with a wire tap for the King and Polonius to eavesdrop during the famous “nunnery” scene. In this production, Ophelia lets Hamlet know they are listening (which is not called for in the script) by lifting her shirt and showing him the listening device.

HE SAID: As Hamlet, Dan Donohue appropriately alternated between brooding and manic, witty exuberance. Although some might consider Donohue a bit too mature to play the young prince, it read for me as though his grief had aged him beyond his years. With the help of lighting and sound design that made it clear when his monologues were internal, he was very effective at sharing his internal conflict with the audience. He had a strange speech pattern that is somewhat difficult to describe, which at times was a little distracting.

SHE SAID: The supporting roles were largely well cast. My favorite was Richard Elmore as Polonius, who managed to convey the perfect balance of a concerned father while blathering enough to provide comic relief. Susannah Flood as Ophelia was sweet and simply riveting to watch in the first half of the production. During nunnery scene mentioned above, she expertly portrayed her character’s conflicting interests. In the scene in which Ophelia goes mad, which was oddly set in Gertrude’s bedchamber, I wasn’t sure if it was the character or the actress who was out of breath throughout. By the end,  she was neither incoherent enough to sell it as a frantic act, nor coherent enough for it to symbolize some delusional goal of hers, which was somewhat unsatisfying for me.

HE SAID: Jeffrey King was commanding and ambitious as the murderous King Claudius, although he transitioned rather suddenly from the guilt-ridden to scheming and heartless in the second half of the production. Armando Duran as Horatio stood out as especially authentic in his portrayal of Hamlet’s most trusted and loyal friend. Bill Geisslinger as the grave-digger also deserves a shout-out. Of almost all the performers, the Elizabethan language seemed to trip off his tongue with the most ease, and I would gladly see him tackle a much larger role.

SHE SAID: I agree that Claudius’s character seemed to swing a bit between extremes, but I’m not sure if that is the script or the choices that Jeffrey King was making. I also very much enjoyed Greta Oglesby’s performance as Gertrude. I was a little puzzled during the scene that Ophelia goes mad that she retreated to the bed at several points where I can’t imagine she would be able to sleep, but overall she was a regal and sensitive presence.

THEY SAID: No one should pass up the opportunity to see this production of Hamlet. The modern setting makes it an incredibly current production, and is bound to make you think of the classic masterpiece in a new way.




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