Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Tragedy of Amleth, Princess of Denmark

It opens with a wedding cake. It opens with a king and queen with white icing on their fingers. Enter Amleth, princess of Denmark, hauling heavy baggage, perplexed that her father's funeral has turned into her mother's wedding.

You might almost think, at this point, that this is just an adaptation, that the story will be the same, that this is just a female Hamlet in modern English.

But the differences keep piling up. Amleth is engaged in a heated lesbian relationship with Ophelia. The characters are different, like Mrs. Polonius. You begin to get the idea that, despite the various allusions to the original, the resolution to this play might be... rather distinct. By the time the second act rolls around, you definitely feel that you are on the high seas as far as knowing where the plot is going.

But the plot does come back to the castle - for the big final scene with a sword fight and tragic ending - rest assured.

The play doesn't really rely upon the viewer knowing Shakespeare's version of the story. But as one who has spent a lot of time with Hamlet, it had that intense "alternate universe" experience.

The language does somehow carry a Shakespearean feel, a leaning toward metaphor I think, but in a way that is simple and direct.

Anna Menekseoglu dominates the play in the title role, struggling with alienation, isolation, and threats against her life. As Hamlets go, despite her emotional ups and downs, she delivers a strong-minded and grounded performance. You feel that this is indeed a princess to be reckoned with, a woman of substance, a real danger to the powers that be. You understand why a political enemy might find it wise to remove her from the playing board.

Megan Merrill's Ophelia is the most sympathetic character on stage, to my mind, and in many ways the most sensible. Seeing the rottenness in Denmark, she wants no part of it. My heart went out to her as fate, and attachment, reeled her in.

Rachel Martindale plays a majestic Gertrude, a woman of dangerously sweet cunning. Jeremy Menekseoglu plays a fascinating Claudius, a man who cannot get comfortable in his newfound position of power. Leana Savoie was a real surprise as Lady Polonius, since she made this disagreeable character rather likable, and thereby made you feel the character's plight. Hasket Morris seemed totally immersed in his role as the hunchbacked dog master; you will believe that his hump, and his sullen but righteous attitude, are real. John-Paul Kostecki was outstanding in his role of the Artificer; his puppet work with just the head of a mannequin was profoundly creepy. Finally, Laura Gouin pulled off the role of Mother Superior with power and an air of insane certainty.

MrsPolAndGert Mrs. Polonius and Queen Gertrude

The staging deserves some special comment. The script calls for a lot of things that are hard to stage - such as an amusement park ride. Theater audiences are willing to imagine the details of such things, if you can just give them the proper amount of suggestion. This show, on a small budget I imagine, does a bang-up job with the sort of evocative staging suggestions that let the audience imagination run free.

If you love Hamlet, I recommend this play.

On the other hand, if you hate Hamlet, try this version! You may well like it better!

It's Hamlet re-dreamed,
but lesbian-themed,
with a new direction
in murder detection.

All exquisitely acted,
with emotions impacted
as blind love and rage
charge the stage.

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