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Hamlet — Hedgerow Theatre

images (32)Jared Reed has a way of reading soliloquies that brings you immediately into Hamlet’s thought processes.

Reed, playing the role at Hedgerow Theatre, is a Hamlet you could never construe as being mad, none even north by northwest. He is a cunning young man who slyly puts on his antic disposition to become a detective and outsmart the greedy king, his uncle, Claudius, who killed Hamlet’s father to attain the Danish throne and added to his offense, from Hamlet’s point of view, by marrying his brother’s widow, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude.

We know Hamlet is as grieved by his mother’s wedding as he is by his father’s death even before Hamlet hears about or sees his father’s ghost. Reed makes this perfectly plain in the “too too solid flesh” speech, which he delivers with restlessness and rancor. You see right away that Hamlet is agitated and would enjoy finding a way to discredit Claudius and prove Gertrude’s poor and hasty judgment. Horatio’s news about the ghost only spurs Hamlet to learn more. As always, per Shakespeare’s text, Hamlet is deliberate about acting on the ghost’s call for revenge, but one gets the sense if The Bard consented, Reed’s Hamlet would have him dispatched before his evening’s dinner turned cold.

Reed give Hedgerow’s “Hamlet” a solid core, one on which director Dan Hodge can build an animated production that holds your attention as firmly as Hamlet “tenting” Claudius to the quick during the play sequence. Zoran Kovcic, as Polonius and the Gravedigger, Stacy Skinner as Gertrude, Jennifer Summerfield as Horatio, and especially Annette Kaplafka as Ophelia add to the intensity of Hodge’s staging while Joel Guerrero and Brock D. Vickers provide comic relief as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

This is a dense “Hamlet” that seems to take its cue from Marcellus’s famous line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” A malaise seems to pall everyday life at Elsinore. No one seems especially happy or contented, not even the usurping Claudius. Days seems heavy, as if everyone, from Hamlet to Ophelia has something weighing on his or her shoulders, if not his or her conscience. Hodge makes the time during which “Hamlet” plays move quickly, but the characters who inhabit Denmark’s castle seem as if their minds are on many things at once. Hamlet lets us know his mind via his soliloquies, but in Hodge’s Elsinore, everyone seems to be overwhelmed or preoccupied while getting through his or her daily life. The cheery nature of the visiting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern — well, at least Guerrero’s Guildenstern — even more than the arrival of the players, is all that seems to pick up the morale and dissipate some of the permeating gloom.

Reed’s Hamlet is a man with a purpose that doesn’t so much need whetting as a time and place for Hamlet to act. Reed accentuates Hamlet’s intelligence and cunning. His expressions reinforce Shakespeare’s words as he ferrets out information or has a nagging suspicion confirmed. This smart Hamlet may be more dangerous, more threatening than a mad or deranged Hamlet. He obviously has enough wits about him to do considered, thought-out mischief instead of striking wildly as an addled person might do. Claudius is right to be wary of him. John Lopes’s king seems to sense that Hamlet is aware of his secret and likely in time to strike with more than words.

Reed sets the tone for this “Hamlet,” but others fall neatly into Hodge’s conception for the play. Kovcic, a fine, fine actor, refrains from making Polonius foolish or unlikeable. He is ever the sober counselor, a man of thought and judgment who uses his vast wisdom and experience to advise. Kovcic’s is a Polonius Reed’s Hamlet can appreciate. He is equally cunning in the way he goes about his business and tries to gain information. Skinner’s Gertrude is affectionate towards her new husband, but you always see a mother’s worry on her brow. She is cognizant of Hamlet’s disapproval and although she sues to have her son be ruled by her, she is apprehensive about what he is thinking that he is not expressing. Except to us, the audience. Kaplafka’s Ophelia is endearing. She is not wilting flower, no innocent who needs to be tutored. She is a sensible young woman who bearing speaks of her intellect. Kaplafka’s Ophelia is a match for Hamlet. You can see she admires and, perhaps, even loves him. This is an Ophelia Gertrude is justified to say she would have cherished as her daughter-in-law.

Jennifer Summerfield is a wonderful Horatio. She gives the character importance and is integral to every scene in which Horatio appears, holding equality in conversations with Hamlet and leading the early scenes in which the Elsinore watchmen acquaint Horatio of the late king’s ghost.

Summerfield does everything well, yet one might question Hodge’s decision to cast a woman in the role. From a Shakespearean point of view, it’s fine. From a cosmetic point of view, it is problematic. On the Hedgerow stage, Reed’s Hamlet communes with Summerfield’s Horatio more closely than he does to Ophelia, who he confuses mightily. During intense conversations, Reed looks into Summerfield’s eyes in ways that show admiration, that indicate love. This intimacy might be unwitting or meant to demonstrate how close Hamlet and Horatio are as friends, but in Hodge’s production, Reed’s looks at Summerfield read as affection and even longing. Reed looks as if he would like to make love to Summerfield. Their byplay creates a conundrum Shakespeare does not include in his play and is probably of accidental interest at Hedgerow.

Hodge is efficient and thorough while bringing palpable texture to this “Hamlet.” As an editor, he has taken out everything that refers to Fortinbras or affairs of Danish state that skew focus from Hamlet and his relationships with denizens of Elsinore. This allows the most human dramas to percolate and materialize with strength on the Hedgerow stage. Hamlet’s scenes with Ophelia are deep and have meaning. His encounter with Polonius in the castle lobby seems natural and is a credit to both Reed and Kovcic  for being meaningful to the play while entertaining. By his care, Hodge reveals more of the strategy taking place between the palace officials and Hamlet than usually registers. Hamlet’s scenes with Horatio take on a confidential nature that add to their importance as occasions for exposition. Hamlet telling Horatio about his escape from the ship taking him to death in England sounds as much like a young man’s adventure as it is a chance to Hamlet to catch the audience up on some news.

Hodge’s emphasis on personality and intrigue make Hedgerow’s “Hamlet” easy to follow. It’s a good, stolid production that points up the perfidy in Claudius, the split allegiance of Gertrude, the ruining of Opheilia, and the mettle of Hamlet, who for all of his expressed doubts and self-recrimination, stands as the clearest-headed and most noble character in the group.

Generally strong acting bolsters key scenes such as Hamlet’s berating of Gertrude following the play, Ophelia’s burial, and the sword competition that decides every character’s fate. Reed and Robert DaPonte, as Laertes, are particularly moving during their moment of rational rapprochement as each realizes he is slain.

The sum of the parts makes this a commendable “Hamlet” that makes the story compelling while maintaining tension and keeping all of the issues pertaining to Elsinore thought-provoking and evident.

Jared Reed is a nimble Hamlet, physically and mentally. You watch how nothing influences him, except his own observations and cogitation and how nothing deceives him. Reed’s Hamlet can take the measure of any adversary and know one is a friend. He is constantly assessing and calculating, managing everything except what he’s sworn to do. In Hodge’s production, the sudden voyage to England can account for Hamlet’s failure to exact revenge as much as his procrastination or sentimentality about Claudius’s soul going to heaven does.

John Lopes is steady as both Claudius and the late King Hamlet’s ghost. Though his performance doesn’t have the distinctive traits that others do, it is straightforward and lets you know the mind and character of Claudius.

Stacy Skinner bears herself regally as Gertrude. She is a practical woman who is aware of what is happening around and is torn between allegiance and affection to Claudius and maternal regard for Hamlet. Skinner gives a direct performance, but she lets you see Gertrude’s confusion. She is excellent in the scene in which Hamlet upbraids her for marrying Claudius and does a fine job at horror when Hamlet addresses the apparition she cannot see.

Skinner is particularly strong is the scene in which Ophelia reveals her distraction. She exudes true sympathy that borders on mournful pity. Her emotions register as sincere and put Gertrude in a softer, more favorable light.

Annette Kaplafka makes you care so much for Ophelia because she is obviously Hamlet’s match and seems as astute as her father or brother. This is an Ophelia who can follow her father’s orders obediently but who betrays her deep regard and probable love for Hamlet. The bestowal of this love is more flattering because Kaplafka’s Ophelia conveys such maturity and common sense. She is not a girl mooning after a prince who has paid her attention but a woman who can make her own evaluations and who knows her heart. Kaplafka makes Ophelia impressive which makes the character’s downfall sadder and more of a shame.

Zoran Kovcic’s ease serves him no matter what kind of character he plays. Kovcic conveys a peaceful naturalness. As Polonius, he underscores the counselor’s value as a diplomat  and advisor to the crown. Kovcic’s is a respectable Polonius who has foibles but who is not a clown. Reed’s Hamlet likes him enough to mean when he tells the player king to “mock him not” and to show a moment of regret when he realizes it’s Polonius he’s slain and not Claudius.

Robert DaPonte feels obviously at home in Elsinore as Laertes. In spite of his anger, he is easy about Claudius and ready to serve him.

Joel Guerrero is a merry Guildenstern while Brock D. Vickers is quiet and looks distressed as Rosencrantz. Their appearance in Elsinore lightens the mood of Hodge’s production while giving Reed a chance to do some of his shrewdest reacting when he realizing his friends did not come from Wittenberg to see him by their own volition. Both actors do well in early scenes doubling as Marcellus (Guerrero) and Bernardo (Vickers).

Jennifer Summerfield is animatedly bright and staunchly true as Horatio. She gives vigor to the watch scenes and proves to be a loyal ally to Hamlet. Summerfield’s performance registers strongly. Her Horatio is in the middle of a lot and seems to be more instrumental at Elsinore than in most productions, where Horatio seems to fade out after the players’ sequence.

Gratefully, Summerfield never tries to be masculine as Horatio. The character’s gender changes for this production, and she is Hamlet’s dearest friend who happens to be female. As  noted, the only difference the cross-casting makes is the romantic inferences one gleans several times when Hamlet gazes at Horatio.

Zoran Kovcic’s basic set worked for the production and seems to give Hodge a lot of playing space and some alternative playing spaces. Sarah Mitchell’s costumes suited each character.

“Hamlet” runs through Sunday, November 23, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 West Rose Valley Road, in Rose Valley, Pa. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $34 to $25, with discounts available, and can be obtained by calling 610-565-4211 or by visiting www.hedgerowtheatre.org.

 

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