Hamlet succinctly excellent
KC Fringe Festival
Shakespeare's Hamlet, condensed version, is performed by members of the Suitcase Shakespeare Company based out of Chicago. To paraphrase their flier, they tour dynamic physical performances which use masks, physical comedy, acrobatics, live music, dance, and stage combat to make classical texts entertaining and understandable to a variety of audiences.
They succeed in their purpose exceedingly well. Bravo to thespians Rachel Wells Johnson, Arne Parrott, Jake Jones, Matthew Davis, Genesee Spridco, director Leslie Ann Sheppard, costumer Skye Geerts, and any others involved with this production.
The editing by Genesee is a remarkable feat. Her adaptation does indeed capture the essence of the story and characters, keeping most of the memorable lines intact, in this very short time.
My companion and I disagree on the order in which we would rank each of the actors for quality; but we agree that there is very little difference from the best to the least, and the overall production is excellent. All of the actors do a nice job of playing different characters with believable changes of interpretation, stance, voice, etc. All of the actors have moments in which they shine. I personally celebrate women taking on men's roles. My only quibble is that once in a while an actor speaks too fast for me to catch the words, and I wonder if people who are not as familiar with the classics might have more difficulty understanding the story.
But overall, I enjoy the enunciation and vocal resonance of all the actors, and the interpretation which illustrates what the words mean. This group also does an excellent job of using actions and gestures to communicate meaning of the lines.
Director Leslie Ann's vision to open with a dance with no words is very effective, using gestures and symbolic props to communicate the prologue. That set the mood well. I think the show would benefit from cutting the length down a bit; the purpose is achieved earlier, so much repetition without something new happening is unnecessary, and it seems out of proportion in its use of time compared to the length of the show.
The dance toward the end of the show, with similar symbolic props and the same gestures, is very satisfying parallelism; and the ending dance takes just the right amount of time.
A highlight for many of their audiences will be the fencing duel, which Matthew choreographed and the actors execute very well. The physicality of Hamlet's argument with Ophelia is also impressive.
As a fan of a minimalist approach to set and props, I admire this traveling troupe's multiple uses of ladder and fabric, with a chest and chair for storage and levels.
Skye designed costumes which immediately suggest the character but allow quick costume changes for actors playing multiple roles.
I appreciate the set design and costume design allowing the show to flow quickly without lengthy scene changes. With the simplicity of the technical aspects, the words become the focal point, and that seems appropriate for Shakespeare.
Original music scored and recorded by Arne adds interest and emotion.
You may know the story, but you probably haven't seen it carried out quite this way. It's worth the trip.