Malcom Moon ’15
A mere seven minute drive from Trinity, one of the nations leading residential theatres, Hartford Stage is currently showing its’ production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The production reflects the company’s artistic director, Darko Tresnjaks innovative and entrancing directorial skills. Tresnjaks’ “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder on Broadway,” have recently won him four Tony awards. That said, it is unsurprising that the “Hamlet” production has not only been extremely well attended, but has also already received much acclaim.
The magnum opus has survived the years as a timeless classic of tragedy and revenge. The play details the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark who seeks revenge against his uncle Claudius for killing his father and marrying his mother to seize the throne. In this production, Tresnjak highlights this central theme along with the themes of religious differences, spying, and surveillance. Recognizing “Hamlet” as one of Shakespeare’s most complex tragedies, Tresnjak’s direction and design stand out remarkably in doing it justice.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the production is the staging. As the audience enters the house of the theatre, one would immediately notice the unit set of a lowly elevated, cross-shaped platform that seems to consume most of the space. Symbolizing Christianity, the set resembles the clear division within a unified body, such the Protestant Claudius versus the Catholic Hamlet. Additionally, by having all scenes take place on the cross-platform, multiple commentaries are made in regards to power struggles within the monarchy, the murder of a powerful Jesus-like figure, and the vengeful acts and their consequences.
The action of the play takes the form of a thriller. In the ghostly scenes featuring Hamlet’s father, the use of grandiose spectacle heightened the action of the play. The production incorporated Hamlet’s father in dark armor on a black horse that rose from the grounds of Purgatory at the center of the stage. Along with the use of minimal lighting and fog, a chilling mood swept through the audience as King Hamlet revealed Claudius as his murderer. Personal conflicts also arise as the audience meets Ophelia, and her love for Hamlet is soon blinded by his overt obsession with murdering Claudius.
For those who may not be familiar with “Hamlet,” the play is set in Denmark, and King Claudius has just seized the throne. Prince Hamlet’s father’s ghost visits him to inform him that Claudius poisoned King Hamlet in his sleep. Angered by Claudius’s ruthlessness, Hamlet vows to seek revenge for his fathers’ death.
His obsession and neurotic energy soon affects his relationship with Ophelia, daughter of the chief counsel Polonius. Hamlet confronts his mother, Gertrude, for her treason against his father by marrying his brother so quickly after his death. His erratic behavior frightens Gertrude, especially when he kills Polonius who was eavesdropping on their conversation. The death of Polonius and the heartbreak over Hamlet causes Ophelia to slip into a deep state of madness and later commit suicide. Laertes returns from studying in France to hear of the death of his father and sister and demands his revenge. Working with Claudius, the two set up a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet in which they plan to kill him by poison. However, like a true Shakespearean tragedy, the action ends with the deaths of Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and soon Hamlet.
The lighting and costume design proved to be striking elements in this production. The use of bold shades of reds, golds, and blues were a vibrant contrast to the dark setting and themes that defined the plot. The costumes were of true Elizabethan style consisting of traditional royal garb with a modern twist. The play was very simple yet eloquent.
The acting performances were also truly stunning. The cast members seemed to have a full grasp of their characters, and were committed to presenting a marvelous production. The stage direction was excellently executed. Most importantly, the attention to the small details of the set definitely furthered the thematic elements of the plot, and the cast helped breath a new life into the classic. I would definitely applaud the director and the cast for highlighting the moments of humor in the mostly depressing and horrifying tragedy. The humor definitely lent towards shaping the structure of the performance. Edward James Hyland who played the role of Polonius is worth a special mention as he served as the comic relief in the production.
If I had to pick out aspects of the production that I personally did not appreciate, the dark horse would be one of them. In the scenes of King Hamlet’s ghost, he arose from the ground on a huge horse. While it was very striking and interesting, the horse also seemed to take the audience out of the world of the play because it didn’t truly seem necessary. Additionally, in the beginning, the production used a lot of entrances from trap doors with fog and bright white lighting. These elements began to lose their powerful effect on the audience and became a bit predictable. Regardless of the few pitfalls, the production overall was worth a watch. The audience remained engaged despite the long length of the performance, and the visually striking nature of every scene kept audience members in awe.
In the Hartford Stage production, the director made the Shakespearean tragedy more modern and easily accessible to its contemporary audience. Hamlet, portrayed by Zach Appelman, reminded spectators of their years of teen angst and obstinate nature while remaining true to classical characterization. The cast consisted of wonderful performers including Trinity alum Erik Bloomquist ’14, who portrayed Cornelius and supporting ensemble roles. His performance was truly remarkable, showing his versatility in playing multiple characters and his strong connection to the Shakespearean text.
Watching him perform professionally may be yet another incentive for members of the Trinity community to take the short trip out of the campus bubble to watch the show. “Hamlet” is running at the Hartford Stage until Nov. 16.