Last night I saw the William Shakespeare play “Hamlet” performed live at the Community Arts Center downtown. I have not gone to that theater in a long time because their selection of entertainment has been terrible. This is possibly due to the commercial nature of touring performances or it could be the bad taste of their patrons or the selection committee. Hamlet was the only show with any cultural value that has been on their schedule in years.
I have to admit that the downtown scene seems to have more energy and my night out was unexpectedly impressive and highly enjoyable. There was someone performing live music out on the street across from the theater and that lent a certain festive air to the neighborhood. I also saw the huge mural that is being painted on the buildings around the coffee shop.
Before the show started I went upstairs and saw a couple performing Scottish music on a fiddle and drum. This took place in a swank bar in the Community Arts Center. I didn’t even know that such a facility existed. It was a very impressive performance space with a wood paneled stage, a wide screen plasma monitor and Microsoft Media Center computer, and a bar. There were classy theater posters on the walls, a skylight, and outside terrace. I thought it was really ritzy and a great way to begin the evening.
Hamlet was performed by the American Shakespeare Center. They seem to adopt a very comical approach to Shakespeare and struck me as being rather like a community theater troupe, although no community theater would attempt Hamlet. They did a coin toss to determine whether to do the First Folio or Second Quarto version of some scenes. A few lucky audience members were invited onstage to sit off to the side during the play. They were subjected to a few indignities like having costume hats placed on the head and being involved in the gravedigger scene (simulated pouring of a tankard on the head).
Ophelia was played by Brandi Rhome, a black woman. Personally I find unconventional casting distracting although it would be appropriate to have the female roles played by boys as was the practice in Shakespeare’s time. It is as bad as having one character in modern dress while all the other characters are in period dress. Unconventional casting should only be used in a production that is going to be entirely unconventional. I’m just saying it was a bad choice for aesthetic reasons.
It is a rare opportunity to see Hamlet performed live. I doubt that I shall ever see Hamlet on stage again. Not too many community theaters would have the ambition to perform Hamlet and commercial productions are rare. You definitely should not pass up such an once in a lifetime opportunity. When you are young you may imagine that theaters are performing Shakespeare all the time, which is true, and you can wait until later to catch a show. However theaters prefer comedies and are much more likely to perform Shakespeare’s comedies. They rarely do the great tragedies. I have not seen MacBeth, King Lear, King Richard III or Othello.
There are a few other things I want to note about this production so that I will remember them much later. The fight scene was not as energetic as you may see in a movie. There were very few stage props used. The house lights were left on during the entire play which made it seem more like a rehearsal. I could clearly hear the dialogue even though it was not amplified. The theater was about half full. The Community Arts Center director came out before the play and made some announcements. He made some comical attempts to blow a trumpet.
Hamlet was played by Luke Eddy and he gave a very impassioned performance such as you would expect. The ghost of Hamlet’s father was played by Daniel Kennedy and I thought he looked very royal. Overall it was a very satisfactory staging of Hamlet and can serve as your only live experience of the play.