A Review of TCR’s Hamlet

hamletby Matthew Falduto
Photo by Von Presley Studios

Cedar Rapids – All of the most moving stories are about relationships. We want to understand how the people in the stories connect to another. When putting a classic play like Wiilliam Shakespeare’s Hamlet on stage, it’s easy to get lost in the language, allowing the different moments of the play to live alone without connecting them to the story, to the people, and to their relationships. What Theatre Cedar Rapids director Jason Alberty’s production of Hamlet does best is show us these connections, bringing the story to us in a powerful and dramatic way. Continue reading

Riverside’s Hamlet: "Sit You Down and Let Me Wring Your Heart"

By James E. Trainor III

Christopher Peltier as Hamlet; Eliza Stoughton as Ophelia.
Photo by Bob Goodfellow

Iowa City – Riverside Theatre in the Park is not in the park this year; it’s been moved to West High’s auditorium due to flooding. However, the company has adapted well to the new space, and Riverside’s production of Hamlet, directed by Kristin Horton, retains the quality expected of both the festival and of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.

Horton begins the play with some innovative staging; in the court scene that follows the initial sighting of the ghost, Hamlet (Christopher Peltier) is first noticed by his absence. All the principals but him are assembled; just as we are about to wonder how he will be brought on he begins speaking from the back of the house, and his confrontation with his family is carried out across the audience. The change in venues actually makes this choice more effective, despite some issues with sightlines; standing at the back of West High’s rather large auditorium, we can hear Hamlet before we see him, and he makes a rather ominous approach shrouded in the “inky cloak” of the darkened theatre.

Instead of dispersing the crowd for Hamlet’s first monologue, Horton has the company freeze as Hamlet weaves in and out of them, explaining the situation to the audience. This is an interesting device that serves to separate Hamlet from the world of Elsinore, and it brings up interesting questions about his role in the play. Is this bitter, curmudgeonly young man an unreliable narrator? Or is he the only one willing to speak the truth about the conniving and scheming courtiers we see displayed onstage?

The setup is a great introduction to a character who has a lot of layers about him, each answer bringing up more questions. Hamlet is a particularly challenging show, for both director and actor, in part because of the very uncertainly and indecisiveness that surrounds its title character. There are too many questions available for prying at the character to pick just one: is he starting to lose his mind, or is he just really good at playing the fool? Does his biting wit serve as substantial political commentary, or is he just an angry young man lashing out at those around him? What’s his problem with women, anyway? Hamlet is a very deep character, and the fact that the play itself isn’t sure whether it’s a melodrama or a philosophical treatise compounds the problem.

Horton addresses this challenge in two ways. First, the text seems to be cut quite well, trimming some of the edges and getting rid of some of the many tangents and ratholes. The heavy bits of speechifying that are still there are very connected to the character’s emotional needs, so the action moves along at an exciting pace and the play does not feel as long as it actually is. But more importantly, Horton’s attention to the emotional realities of the story takes what could easily stray into exaggerated melodrama and gives it an intimate, realistic feel. In this she follows Hamlet’s advice to the players: “suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.” The company’s commitment to naturalism, and the close exploration of the character’s relationships, makes this a deeply touching and very thought-provoking Hamlet. With this approach, characters who seem preposterous on the page can be very sympathetic.

Claudius (Tim Budd) seems to be the most nuanced portrayal; here we have less a lecherous, drunken villain than someone who seems to truly care for Gertrude, though he’s well aware of the sins he’s committed. This guilt threatens to consume him, and as the play goes on and he is more and more distracted from the affairs of state by Hamlet’s machinations, it becomes clear through Budd’s acting choices that this is less a story of political intrigue than a contest for Gertrude’s affections. This calm, crafty villain, whose only weakness is his tender care for his ill-gotten wife, is the perfect foil to Peltier’s wild and bitter Hamlet. Gertrude herself (Corliss Preston) seems a bit uneven at first, but Preston is a strong scene partner and her intense focus helps the character come through in later scenes. Though she seems unaware of the extent of Claudius’ machinations, her love for Hamlet is very clear as she tries in vain to protect him near the end.

Polonius (Jim Van Valen), typically a complete buffoon, is redeemed by his sincere love for his children. Rather than a suspicious, jealous father, he is an overbearing but well-meaning dolt, and his helpless rambling seems cause for pity rather than scorn. It is also clear that Ophelia (Eliza Stoughton) and Laertes (Fred Geyer) care for their father. Stoughton gives a very powerful performance, and her tenderness with Polonius and her bittersweet relationship with Hamlet seem to form the backbone of this production. She also does excellent character work, presenting at first a very composed woman who descends into madness throughout the play. In her final scene, she is simply stunning, taking command of the stage and attacking Claudius and Gertrude with thinly veiled accusations. Geyer is a skilled actor as well, and he is as boisterous and fun in the early scenes as he is bold and vicious near the end.

The tragedy of the piece is that Hamlet’s indecisive, fumbling revenge draws in nearly everyone at court by the end. This is made all the more tragic by the great acting and directing that flesh out the world of Elisnore. Hamlet is an outsider in a world that moves too quickly and is too coldly cynical for him; the only true ally he has in his private feud with Cladius is Horatio (John William Watkins). Horatio is more than just a foil for the audience here; he is a kind, patient man who has the misfortune to see horrible things but the serenity not to overreact. He is Hamlet’s rock, and Watkins and Peltier are well paired onstage. On the other end of the spectrum, Rosencrantz (Logan Black) and Guildenstern (Spencer Christensen), the double-dealing spies, are also well-cast. From when they greet Hamlet enthusiastically to when they bumble off to their doom, it’s equally believable that they were once Hamlet’s friends and that they have now been sucked into Cladius’ political machine.

Finally, Hamlet himself is exciting, energetic, and very engaging. Much of the “antic disposition” business seems to come directly from his anger and anxiety; when he lets down Ophelia as when he leads Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in circles, it is difficult to tell what is put on for show and what is venting about his situation. He seems to be full of paradoxes: when lashing out at the others, he walks the line between clever court jester and overgrown child; in soliloquies, he could be showing off his brilliant philosophical mind or just making excuses for his cowardice. He is clearly pent-up and neurotic, but his plight is recognizable and his passion, when finally activated, is amazing to watch. Drawing on his considerable skill as an actor, Peltier keeps the mystery of the character going right up until the end. When we see him finally discover his determination in the final scenes, it is the end of an exhausting journey of self-discovery.

The design is very good and adapts itself well to the space. Shelly A. Ford brings a few sparse scenic elements to West High, giving the impression of a vast amount of space to play in. David Thayer’s cool, subtle lighting furthers the impression of an empty, endless world, while Lindsay W. Davis’ costumes add color to it, lushly dressing Cladius’ court while setting Hamlet aside in a black cloak.

Hamlet runs through July 6, in repertory with The School for Scandal. For full schedule and ticket information, see Riverside’s website.

Riverside Theatre in the Park moves indoors

Iowa City – “The shows will go on! Due to City Park flooding, Riverside Theatre in the Park is moving indoors for its 14th summer season to West High Auditorium. Dates and times remain the same, June 14 – July 7, 2013. This summer’s plays are William Shakespeare’s much-loved drama Hamlet, directed by Kristin Horton, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century comedy about English aristocracy, The School for Scandal, directed by Theodore Swetz. For tickets and information, call 319-338-7672 or visit www.riversidetheatre.org. West High School is located at 2901 Melrose Ave, Iowa City, Iowa.

About West High Auditorium

West High Auditorium is an air-conditioned indoor theatre with excellent acoustics. Located at 2901 Melrose Ave, Iowa City, there is easy access to the building and plenty of parking.

Bring your own picnic and enjoy the Green Show on the lawn near the auditorium one hour before each performance. Riverside Theatre will be selling limited concessions. The Green Show is a short performance that provides a humorous overview of the evening’s main production.”

(Source: Riverside Theatre Press Release)

Open Rehearsal of Hamlet

[Note: due to inclement weather, this event has been cancelled but may be rescheduled]

Iowa City – “Riverside Theatre in the Park invites the public to an open rehearsal of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on Saturday, June 1, from 2:00PM-3:30PM at the Riverside Festival Stage in Lower City Park, Iowa City.

Get a glimpse of a Riverside Theatre in the Park show in the making! Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s greatest dramas — mystery, family, politics and love are explosively combined, erupting into a wild, unforgettable climax. Hamlet is directed by Kristin Horton.

Come for all or part of the rehearsal. Light refreshments will be served.

This is a free, family-friendly event; no tickets required.

For more information contact the Riverside Theatre Box Office at 319-338-7672 or visit riversidetheatre.org.”

(Source: Riverside Press Release)

Riverside Theatre in the Park

Iowa City – “Riverside Theatre announces their summer season of classic works, Riverside Theatre in the Park, June 14-July 7, 2013. This summer’s plays are William Shakespeare’s much loved drama HAMLET, directed by Kristin Horton, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century comedy about English aristocracy, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, directed by Theodore Swetz. Performances take place at the open-air, Shakespearean Globe-inspired Riverside Festival Stage in Lower City Park, Iowa City, Iowa. Tickets range from $18-$40, with discounted 2-show passes available, Family Nights and group ticket deals. For tickets and information, call 319-338-7672 or visit www.riversidetheatre.org.

About Riverside Theatre in the Park
Riverside Theatre has a regular spring-fall season on Gilbert Street in Iowa City, but each summer two classic shows are presented in June and July at the beautiful Riverside Festival Stage in Lower City Park, Iowa City, Iowa. This is the 14th season of summer classics. Originally the summer season was called Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival, but the name change in 2011 to Riverside Theatre in the Park (abbreviated RTP) reflects the varied offerings, now not exclusively Shakespeare, though one Shakespeare piece has been produced each year. Actors and crew are made up of local and national professional actors and production team members, plus an apprentice company, who make Iowa City their home during the RTP rehearsal and performance period.

The Riverside Festival Stage is inspired by the Shakespearean Globe Theatre. It is an open-air theatre, seats 472 people and is set against a bluff, adjacent to a willow-ringed reflecting pond. The concessions stand opens 90 minutes before each show and offers a variety of treats and drinks. One hour before each performance is a free Green Show, a short, fun version of the upcoming performance performed by the RTP apprentice actors. The Green Show takes place on the lawn near the festival stage. For more information about the stage, concessions, accessibility, parking, weather policy, etc., visit www.riversidetheatre.org/locations

Shakespeare’s stage play, HAMLET, written between 1599 and 1601, remains today one of the most popular of his great works. Mystery, family, politics and love are explosively combined in the play, erupting into a wild, unforgettable climax. The story of HAMLET revolves around the young Prince Hamlet who has returned from his travels to the Danish royal castle Elsinore to find his father, the King, dead, and his mother remarried to his uncle, his father’s brother, Claudius. Soon, Hamlet is approached by a ghost claiming to be the spirit of his father. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him in order to usurp the throne and asks his son to avenge his death. Hamlet is shocked at this encounter and, not knowing whether his grief caused him to imagine the apparition, or if the ghost is real, Hamlet creates a plan. He feigns madness to buy time while he investigates the ghost’s claim at the castle. Hamlet’s love interest, Ophelia, suffers in the wake of Hamlet’s real or imagined madness, becoming an important tragic female figure in the play, performed this summer by Eliza Stoughton. Christopher Peltier returns to Riverside Theatre in the Park to play Hamlet. In past seasons he performed in the TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA and played Richard in AH WILDERNESS!

Kristin Horton also returns to RTP from New York to direct this production. Ms. Horton holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and teaches at New York University.

The production design team for HAMLET is: lighting designer David Thayer, scenic designer Shelly Ford, costume designer, Lindsay Davis and sound designer, Brianna Atwood.

Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL was first performed in London in 1777 to rave reviews. Sheridan, born in Ireland but raised in England, is best known for his popular comedy of manners, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. A comedy of manners, a form sometimes called Restoration comedy, was popular after the Restoration of the English monarchy, approximately 1660–85. In the late 18th century the form was revived. It is a witty form of dramatic comedy that often satirizes manners, affectations and social customs of a contemporary society. The plot usually concerns an illicit love affair or other scandalous matters. Brinsley’s play, true to form, contains many humorous subplots about both love and money.

The story of ‘Scandal’ concerns the social circle of Sir Peter Teazle, a middle-aged aristocrat, and his new wife, a beautiful young woman from the country. Affairs, jealousy and greed are swirling around Sir Peter Teazle, who is blind to these moral disruptions. However, Sir Oliver Surface, uncle and benefactor to multiple members of the social circle returns from his travels and, hearing of this behavior, disguises himself to root out the good seeds from the bad.

Director Theodore Swetz says of the play, “Sheridan’s writing is a response to the Restoration Age where, in absolutely all plays written, the biggest bastard always wins the day. However, with Sheridan the tables are turned; his plays reveal a world where true love and goodness is celebrated while vice and hypocrisy go down in defeat.”

Mr. Swetz returns to Riverside Theatre in the Park. Past RTP directing credits include Love Labuour’s Lost, Ah Wilderness! and As You Like It. Mr. Swetz currently serves as head of acting at the University of Missouri-KC, MFA program. The SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL production design team is: lighting designer David Thayer, scenic designer Shelly Ford and costume designer, Lauren Roark. Music was composed by Matthew Janszen.

Both plays this year will have costumes created in styles true to those of the story’s respective period, HAMLET in Elizabethan style, and THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, in 18th century London fashion.

Lauren Roark, costume designer for THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL secured an opportunity to travel to Hong Kong and work with a high-level, entertainment costume production shop. The creation of men’s jackets require highly specialized skills and she was able to work with producers on complex costume jackets. Lauren chose the materials and planned the designs, returning to Iowa with the first ‘School for Scandal’ costume pieces. She is now working on the elaborate dresses and remainder of the costume pieces with skilled professionals from the Riverside Theatre in the Park team.

Lindsay W. Davis is designing HAMLET. This is his fourth season with Riverside Theatre in the Park, and his rich costume experience brings incredible designs to the stage. Mr. Davis is a Harvard graduate and is currently a tenured faculty member at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has designed for 14 Academy Award winners including Kevin Klein, Helen Hunt, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, Elizabeth Perkins, Laura Linney, F Murray Abraham, and Marcia Gay Hardin. He has designed 13 productions at the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. He designed the original production of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood and won the NY Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for his work. Other awards include the LA Drama Critics Award (twice), the SF Bay Area Critics Award (twice), and The South Florida Critic’s Award.

June 14- July 7, 2013

HAMLET by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kristin Horton

Friday, June 14 8:00PM
Saturday, June 15, 8:00PM
Sunday, June 16, 7:00PM
Tuesday, June 25, 7:00PM
Wednesday, June 26, 8:00PM
Friday, June 28, 8:00PM
Sunday, June 30, 7:00PM
Wednesday, July 3, 8:00PM
Saturday, July 6, 8:00PM

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Theodore Swetz

Friday, June 21, 8:00PM
Saturday, June 22, 8:00PM
Sunday, June 23, 7:00PM
Thursday, June 27, 8:00PM
Saturday, June 29, 8:00PM
Tuesday, July 2, 7:00PM
Friday, July 5, 7:00PM
Sunday, July 7, 7:00PM”

(Source: Riverside Theatre Press Release)

Thursday Theatre Talk at Riverside

Iowa City – “Riverside Theatre presents two free events, a Thursday Theatre Talk and an open reading, to introduce their summer season Riverside Theatre in the Park plays, Shakespeare’s great drama HAMLET and Sheridan’s hilarious 18th century comedy, THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL.

On May 16 at 5:30PM participate in a Thursday Theatre Talk. Learn about the plays and share questions with the host, Shakespearean scholar Miriam Gilbert, and the directors. Discuss Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sheridan’s The School for Scandal—two classic and famous plays. One is perhaps the best-known of Shakespeare’s tragedies, while Sheridan’s generously witty satire is a brilliant comedy of manners. What makes these plays speak to us today? What problems do they raise for contemporary audiences? What draws directors and actors to these classics? Kristin Horton joins us from New York to direct HAMLET. Theodore Swetz, head of acting at the University of Missouri-KC, MFA program, directs THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL.

Friday, May 17 at 7:00PM enjoy an open reading of THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL script. The cast of the show will read through the script and afterwards audience members can share their reactions with the actors and director, helping to shape the production. The play is a hilarious 18th century English satire that pokes fun at an eccentric aristocratic social circle and their snooty culture of gossip and extravagance.

Both events take place at Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert Street and are free and open to the public. No tickets are necessary. For more information call 319-338-7672 or visit riversidetheatre.org

Riverside Theatre in the Park runs from June 14 – July 7 at Lower City Park in Iowa City. Tickets and event information available by phone, 319-338-7672, or online at riversidetheatre.org.”

(Source: Riverside Press Release)