The weather has been working in American Players Theatre’s favor the past few weekends during shows. On this Saturday in particular, thunderstorms have just passed through the area leaving the air with a chill. The sky remains overcast as we venture into The Hill theatre. Standing before us on the stage are steel gates tightly closed. A walkway is suspended above the gates as two guards dressed in navy and silver uniforms patrol the perimeter. We can see their breath as they call to each other. It adds an extra touch of immersion as we feel we are in cold, dreary, Denmark for their production of Hamlet.
American Players Theatre’s Royal Court
The chilly atmosphere makes us feel like we’re also part of this desolate landscape and forced monarchy. The gates are then opened wide, and the full royal court enters. Though their costumes designed by Daniele Tyler Mathews are not from any particular time period, they are crisp and stately in muted, but colorful, shades.
Polonius and his family stand stage left. Polonius himself (Chiké Johnson) in a crisp maroon suit. Laertes (Jamal James) in a dramatic forest green overcoat. And Ophelia (Alys Dickerson) looks regal in a purple gown and high updo.
Claudius, played by Triney Sandoval, is dressed in royal black and gold with a floor length cape sweeping the floor. Colleen Madden as Gertrude is in a satin sky blue gown and tiara that sparkles against the other members of the royal court’s neutrals. They greet us and deliver a state of the union.
Hamlet, played by Nate Burger, stands apart from this group. He joins us in the audience and stands in the middle aisle facing the court as they deliver news. Already, we feel a sense of otherness as he watches this new regime take hold from afar.
The Undead King Looms Large
Though he is no longer of this earthly domain, the previous king of Denmark (played by David Daniel) still makes his presence known in his ghostly form.
He slowly paces across the stage. His skin has taken on a sickly grayish/green color. It feels as though he’s over six feet tall, looming over the other actors. He still retains his commanding presence in full battle armor and crown. His empty eye sockets feel like they still pierce right through you. His voice booms throughout the theatre as he commands Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus to swear to avenge his death.
Each time he appears, we’re both hypnotized and impressed by his spectral form.
The Uneasiness Grows
It feels like the tension never eases as we spiral further and further into the play.
Dickerson slowly grows more and more unhinged as Ophelia finds herself increasingly alone until she has finally snapped. She walks on stage in a state far from her earlier polished appearance. She wears dirty socks, jumper, and oversized shirt. But when she begins to hand out flowers, she tears chunks of hair out of her head. Our eyes grow wide with shock as we watch her descend further into madness.
Madden maintains a mother’s watchful eye as she takes moments to reach out to her son when she sees he’s upset. When Hamlet visits Gertrude’s chambers, we feel frightened as he threatens her when it seems as though all she’s done is try and look after her son.
Burger becomes more and more disheveled as Hamlet grows desperate to avenge his father. His hair becomes messy and untamable and clothes in disarray. He speaks with a frantic energy as he cannot seem to do as his dead father asks. He picks up comedic bits as he uses some of his lines as throwaway one liners. We feel his distrustfulness in each of his interactions with other characters as he first greets his friends with genuineness, but when he realizes they have been sent to spy on him, he turns on them with venom in his words. We feel his desperation as he no longer knows who he can trust.
In this writer’s view, the cast gives earnest portrayals of their characters. It seems Claudius and Gertrude have a genuine relationship as they link arms and lovingly embrace throughout the performance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are more than just comic relief as they happily greet Hamlet and don’t rely on cheap laughs. And we see Hamlet determined to deliver on his vow as faithful son, but slowly feel unhinged as he cannot deliver on that promise. For those looking for a traditional production of Hamlet and one that masterfully delivers on Shakespeare’s language (in this writer’s opinion), this production is not one to be missed.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by James DeVita
Voice & Text Coach: Sara Becker
Assistant Director: Jake Penner
Costume Design: Daniele Tyler Mathews
Scenic Design: Takeshi Kata
Lighting Design: Jason Fassl
Sound Design & Original Music: André Pluess
Fight Director: Jeb Burris
Assistant Costume Designer: Kelly Myers
Stage Manager: Evelyn Matten
Thru October 8
American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
Spring Green, WI 53588
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About the Author: Alexis Bugajski
Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.
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