Ruling class madness exceeds moral boundaries
In the Hippodrome Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's classic play, Hamlet, the death of the king moves the country into political turmoil. With a new king on the throne and the deceased king's son acting erratically, something's clearly rotten in Denmark.
It is an old, worn out statement today but in the 1600s, one man's madness was another man's reality.
The GLOB Master was excited about my first evening of serious theater with the master, William Shakespeare. It was excellent entertainment with Gainesville's own theater master, Hippodrome's Artistic Director Lauren Caldwell, including her personal stamp and interpretation to one of the world's literary masterpieces.
To paraphrase Bart Crow's tune, in Caldwell's modern day take on century old ideas of love, murder, death, and family skeletons -- worth keeping hidden in the closet, Hamlet comes at you fast.
The Hippodrome banner ad for Hamlet bears the sub title, "Make Denmark Great Again." Nice job, Hippodrome, on the clever comparison of our 2017 political madness – the new politics, death, dying, and terrorism . . . nepotism happening today with the politics of Shakespeare's day that he was describing.
Wait one second, GLOBers. It appears only the faces and time frame have changed in this story. So kick my chair if I get confused about which reality I am describing at any particular moment in this review.
Shakespeare's Hamlet has been hailed by literary experts as one of the great murder mysteries of all time.
Prince Hamlet (Michael Littig) is depressed. Having been summoned home to Denmark from school in Germany to attend his father's funeral, he is shocked to find his mother Gertrude (Sara Morsey) already remarried. The Queen has wed Hamlet's Uncle Claudius (V. Craig Heidenenreich), the dead king's brother. To Hamlet, the marriage is "foul incest." Worse still, Claudius had himself crowned king despite the fact that Hamlet was the heir to the throne. Hamlet suspects foul play.
Alas Hamlet's father's Ghost (V Craig Heidenenreich) visits the castle and confirms Hamlet's suspicions. The Ghost complains that he is unable to rest in peace because he was murdered.
Claudius, says the Ghost, poured poison in King Hamlet's ear while he napped. Unable to confess before he died so he could find salvation, King Hamlet is now consigned, for a time, to spend his days in Purgatory and walk the earth by night. The Ghost convinces Hamlet to avenge his death, but to spare Gertrude, letting Heaven decide her fate.
In order to test the Ghost's accusation, Hamlet enlists the help of a troupe of players who perform a play Hamlet calls The Mousetrap, which portrays a murder like the Ghost described, and the ploy proves a success. As Hamlet hoped, Claudius's reaction to the staged murder seems to reveal he is conscience-stricken.
Hamlet begins acting erratically, and Claudius and Gertrude recruit Rosencrantz (Logan Wolfe) and Guildenstern (Niall McGinty) to watch him. The Lord Chamberlain, Polonius (Charlie Mitchell), suggests Hamlet may be mad with love for his daughter, Ophelia (Lauren Nordvig). When spying on Hamlet in conversation with the girl, Claudius notes that Hamlet does not seem to love Ophelia but he does seem mad: Hamlet orders her to enter a nunnery and wants to ban marriage.
In the second act, all hell breaks loose as Hamlet kills or inadvertently becomes involved in the deaths of five royal family members – including Ophelia. Ophelia's brother, Laertes (Niall McGinty) returns to Denmark from France in a rage. Claudius convinces Laertes that Laertes' father and sister were killed by Hamlet and orders a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes with a surprise twist of poison that leads to the death of Hamlet's mother.
Phew! As my mother would have said, be sure to pay attention and keep your playbill handy because the names and faces at times become a mindless blur.
Much applause to Lauren Caldwell and the Hipp tech team of Mihai Ciupe (Scenic Design), Lori Gann-Smith (Costume Design), and Robert P. Robins (Lighting Design) who did an amazing job of contemporizing this play of ruling class madness into a modern day cautionary tale of love, hate, deceit, and all things hidden away in the darkest depths of personal debauchery.
All nine Hippodrome Hamlet actors must have been eager to please the literary giant looking down from above.
From Michael Littig's Hamlet to Sara Morsey's Gertrude, the acting was superb throughout.
The most powerful scene for me was toward the end of the second act when Ophelia (Lauren Nordvig) speaks her personal thoughts to the ghost of her father in an emotional soliloquy that literally moved me physically.
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Years back after viewing one of Lauren Caldwell's plays, I emailed her asking if she could tell me the reason the playwright wrote that play. In a very nice, delicate way, Ms. Caldwell informed me that the art of theater is not in the audience absorbing facts, but each viewer interpretting the action of the play with their own understandings, thus the beauty of theater.
In my mind, after my guest -- Kritina Steinfeldt -- and I spent a great deal of time after the show arriving at conclusions we happily called our own:
Hamlet disproportionately blamed his mother for her sexual relationship with her brother in law and called it incest, but typically incest refers to sexual relations between close blood relatives, so while Gertrude and Claudius are related by marriage, their romantic relationship does not actually constitute incest. In Shakespeare's world, though, incest could be easily labeled the madness of the ruling class, with more than enough blame to go around. In a confined environment with an overt abundance of finger pointing and accusations among the royal family, the art of culpability apparently inspired Shakespeare.
Given that Shakespeare was not a member of the royal family but a commoner, perhaps his intent in writing the play was to demonstrate how the blame game, nobody winning in a world of "Ill defined levels of moral culpability" are reasons for many of the bizarre behaviors of the ruling class.
Sure GLOBers I could talk for pages and pages about what was in the poison in the glasses. Or if Hamlet was really just mad at the world for destroying his hopes as the next king. But I'm thinking about where did the lunacy start. Maybe the 'ghost in the castle' was really just another deranged thought in the collective minds of this generation of a mad, deranged ruling class.
The Hippodrome Theater's production of Hamlet continues through May 7 with performances on various days, and times. FOLLOW THIS LINK for more Hamlet information. Special thanks to GLOB Content Editor Lynn Dirk, and Kristina Stienfeldt for several W. Shakespeare factual story clarifications.