By Jennifer Mustoe
Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, with one of the most haunting storylines and most poignant losses. It can be a tough play to go to. Beautiful but tough. What sets Renaissance Now Theatre & Film’s production from the rest is the inventive and appreciated inclusion of “Now Speak”, which in this play is Hamlet and Ophelia breaking the fourth wall, speaking in modern-day verbiage, and giving Hamlet a lighter, more realistic and identifiable vibe. Not only that, their Now Speak brings a little humor, much needed in this dark, sad tale.
Austin Zimmerman plays Hamlet and he is, in a word, brilliant. The actor playing this difficult, all-important role must be ready to lay it all out on the stage and Zimmerman does this beautifully. His mannerisms, his heft of feeling, his understanding of the Melancholy Dane is fantastic.
The story of Hamlet is rather complicated, switching settings (which we were able to see because signs were put up about who was where—helpful!) but that didn’t deter me. For me, it wasn’t the details of the story that mattered. It was what the moments and performances I was seeing onstage.
Horatio, Hamlet’s friend, played by Joshua Johnson, rings so true that I’d swear Johnson and Zimmerman are best pals irl.
Claudius, played by Rick Macy, is so slimy and creepy, it was delicious to watch. His lady love, Queen Gertrude played by Amanda Williams (Rebecca Nibley), is also rather unsavory, but for me, Williams brings Gertrude’s desperation into the mix. Gertrude is a widow, Hamlet’s father being killed by his brother Claudius, who then marries her. Often I think Gertrude can appear mercenary and money-grubbing. But the effect I got in this production is that she is torn between her love for her son Hamlet and her need to keep his lifestyle, and hers, status quo.
So often, Polonius, adviser to the king and father of Ophelia (Eden Bostrom) and Laertes (Seven Harrison) is seen as a rather comic, bumbling fool. Joel Applegate as Polonius fleshes out the role and makes Polonius not just comical (verbose!) but also does the heavy lifting of being a father to two young people who may or may not be making choices he’d like. Applegate’s mannerisms and sly smile make us like him, but we also recognize his value in Hamlet. He is basically the only older adult in the play that isn’t scheming with death as his end goal. But he does scheme. And it doesn’t end well for him.
Bostrom’s Ophelia is absolutely perfect. Bostrom brings something to the role I haven’t seen before: sweet, sexy teenage young woman, Hamlet’s lover, but…. She is one of the Now Speak characters and her asides about Ophelia are fresh and fun. On the other hand, Bostrom’s final scenes made me cry. All that beautiful youth… Interestingly, one of the things she and Hamlet share is madness. Ophelia goes mad. Hamlet pretends he is mad. But is he only pretending? His obsession with revenging his father’s death seems to me that he has lost his mind, as well. How much of the break up between these two lovers is teenage angst and how much is that they both may be, in fact, mentally ill in some way? I never thought of that until I saw this production of Hamlet.
Other cast members are: Sonja Hugo, Joshua Munoz, Caleb Voss, Desmond Walker, Preston Oschenhirt, and Yulissa Torres.
Fight directors Matthew Carlin (single rapier) and Adam Argyle (rapier and dagger), bring style to the ubiquitious sword fighting that happens so often in Shakespeare’s work. Costumes by Nibley are lush and luscious. Sound Design/Technical Direction by Nate Lowry is unnoticed, which means it is perfect. When all goes to plan, one doesn’t “notice” it, which is a good thing.
The set is simple, designed by Curtiss, and the background is the beautiful Provo valley. The Castle Amphitheater is the perfect setting, looking dark and gloomy after the sun goes down.
Director Kathy Curtiss has done a deep dive winkling out all she can from the script and her actors. I was very affected by what I was seeing. Hamlet is a very disturbing play, one which I rarely see as it upsets me. But this rendition has so much more that is relatable, I found myself not just watching it but enjoying it. It is marvelous.
Renaissance Now Theatre & Film‘s 2023 season includes a festival in repertory of two beloved Shakespeare plays. The performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream play in repertory with Hamlet.
Midsummer on Mondays and Fridays, and Hamlet Thursdays and Saturdays, July 1- 15, 2023. The shows begin at 7:30 with house opening at 7:00 pm.
General Admission $15, Student/Senior $7, Group of 4 $20.
It is advised that patrons bring water, and blankets or chairs, as the mythical setting is a stone Greek style amphitheatre. Bug spray may or may not be needed, as well. The show does begin with the sun shining brightly and it is hot. But there is shade on each side and as soon as the sun goes down (about 20 minutes into the play), it’s very nice. I brought a quilt to sit on and was perfectly comfortable.