Review of Crown Point Community Theatre’s Hamlet

hamlet2014

[Author’s Note—Raymond Williams wrote, “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” (87). The etymology of the word began with reference to agricultural growth (the attentive care necessary to produce plants or breed animals, as in cultivation) and religious growth (the spiritual care necessary to promote enlightenment and epiphany, as in cult, which did not always denote negative connotation). The word culture has come to characterize humanistic growth, especially phenomena that represent the complexity of the human condition, collectively or individually, within a generational environment. Of course, even this definition is insufficient. Culture represents our human lives, and we are all immersed within our own individualized versions of culture, whether it involves work, family, money, politics, religion, or entertainment.

We reflectively know that the poems and stories found within the literary canon represent our culture. We know that art, music, the stage, sports, and film represent culture. In our modern environment—though some scholars might be loath to admit it—television, video games, and internet websites also qualify as cultural indicators. We often share with others what we find to be relevant and significant, and the respondents either approve or disapprove. This exchange perpetuates, fundamentally supporting the cultural conversation between individuals for eons, and we retain those cultural items that are agreed to be most worthy of inclusion. These cultural items often are designated as literary.

I am an enthusiastic explorer of popular culture. Three circumstances compel me to focus on pop culture topics for my blog at this time: 1) It’s summertime!!! 2) There has been a disproportionate amount of depressing world events taking place that compel me to look away for a moment, for preservation of good spirit. 3) I will be teaching again, so I’d like to dive right back into academia in the form of literary study! (I know…sounds riveting…this is how I relax and have fun!) I am going to celebrate life by having a cultural weekend, filled with film, stage, and music.

Friday night, I attended the opening night of Hamlet, presented by local NW Indiana company, the Crown Point Community Theatre. Today, I share the second part of a four-part cultural leg of The Maniacal Rant, in which I explore some significance from the truly extraordinary play, Hamlet, directed by Grant Fitch.–SG]

The first opportunity I had to teach literature in a college classroom was to teach Hamlet’s soliloquy. One of my dearest friends and mentors, Dr. Dennis Barbour, had to attend a meeting that interfered with his class, and he asked me, as a graduate student interested in teaching literature, to fill in for him. I was excited at the opportunity, but once I started to delve into the study of the text, I realized a melancholy comparison with my own personal circumstance. My youngest brother, a veteran of Iraq, had committed suicide half-a-year prior, and Hamlet’s soliloquy essentially ponders the idea of suicide. I could not help but read every word of the text through the imagined experience of my brother, who used a gun to perform the grievance. Suffice to say, I enjoy an affinity for this text of Shakespeare, and I appreciate a special sensibility for the character of Hamlet.

This past Thursday, my brother would have enjoyed a birthday. It was a tough day. Knowing that I was to attend the Crown Point Community Theatre’s production of Hamlet the next day, I spent some time reviewing Hamlet and pondering what drives men to the brink of madness and self-injury. I anticipated how the character of Hamlet might be portrayed and wondered if the actor would be able to properly encapsulate the raw emotion necessary to portray Hamlet. I especially awaited the scene of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

I am pleased to report that my expectations were not only met, but exceeded. Steve Ellis, with his first performance as Hamlet, has created the personal archetype for how Hamlet should be portrayed, and I shall remember this portrayal of Hamlet to the moment I find myself asleep, with a chance to dream.

When his soliloquy began, Hamlet was hunched low as the spotlight highlighted Ellis’ crouch. He held a gun as his weapon, and he wore goth-style pants with chains and a t-shirt, eerily like my young brother used to wear. My breath stuck in my chest, as Ellis glowered for what seemed an eternity. He began, “To be, or not to be…,” and I somehow found the will to breathe again as he more than did justice to the anticipated scene. Ellis approached this character with such raw vigor and zeal that I cannot help but promote his performance as the ultimate showcase for Shakespeare’s flawed yet noble protagonist.

Grant Fitch adapted the play to incorporate a modernized vision successfully, a la Julie Taymor’s Titus. His sense of stage movement and choreography highlighted a successful interaction with his audience, who were on the edge of their seats throughout. No sleeping through this performance, as the violent fight scenes, passionate conveyances, and magnified utterances demanded attention. In fact, if I had one criticism, it might be that I feared for the actors’ safety as some of the physical performances appeared as if they might cause real pain and injury to each other. However, I’d be loath to ask these actors to hold back whatsoever from such a fervent recreation.

Lest I misidentify Ellis as the only worthy player here, I am happy to confirm the discovery of a magnificent cast who drove the brilliance of this contemporary Hamlet. First, kudos to Kassidy Norman who easily steals scenes as unbalanced Ophelia. Her emotional crescendo sent an audible gasp through the crowd. Glenn Silver’s Laertes is jarring, to say the least, as he played such emotional highs and lows with the foil character; the fight scenes he performed with Ellis were authentically like nothing I’ve ever seen on the stage before, and these were most responsible for creating such an air of uncomfortable focus in the stifled room. Mike Johnson’s dual performance as insidious Claudius and the sorrowful ghost of Hamlet’s father was stunning. His booming voice and clear enunciation highlighted his fantastic facial expression, which effectively differentiated the needed dichotomy (I was reminded of wonderful Hollywood and stage actor, Richard Jenkins, easily a compliment in my book for Mike Johnson). Bob Prescott impresses as Hamlet’s conflicted friend, Horatio, enthusiastically providing the necessary characteristics of loyalty, frustration, and disappointment to enhance Hamlet’s dilemma (to underscore the interactivity with the audience, the discarded poisonous goblet nearly landed in my lap, and I was almost compelled to snatch the prop out of the air to assist Horatio’s salvation). Bethany Lee boldly plays naïve and conflicted Gertrude to the satisfying hilt. Jeffry Steven Zimmerman plays a smarmy, chuckle-inducing Polonius, along with a second role as abused priest. Sarah Dwight and William Milhans wonderfully enact the difficult characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Trish Neary and Jennifer Stevens merit congratulations for providing genuinely comic performances as cockney-accented gravediggers. Amy Aurelio is frightening as over-the-top assassin, Osric. Chuckles C. L. Brady, Brittany Bogdan, Chloe Hoeksema, Lydia De Ville, Loretta Moton, Charlie Wimmer, and Rebekah Shepherd round out an impressive cast.

The superb acting and efficient stage movement makes the bare-bones stage production and costume design mostly irrelevant. The props were effectively utilized, and the choreography was nearly flawless, especially with the concluding fencing scene, which literally caused me to seize my chest, as if I was the one being stabbed. I might suggest a higher volume for the original music in future performances, as it was difficult to enjoy the songs between scenes. There were few hiccups with line-recitation on opening night, considering the difficulty of reciting Shakespeare (Glenn Silver did yeoman’s work trudging through what has become the requisite ringing of a cell-phone in a stage production…patrons, leave your cell phones at the door, please!!).

This play is full of moments of levity, uneasiness, and genuinely palpable shock and awe. I admit I was not expecting such a quality performance from a local company, and I am elated to report that this presentation is worthy of a larger venue and audience. I cannot help but fully endorse this rendition of Hamlet and appeal to art-lovers in Northwest Indiana to attend its performance.

Hamlet will be performed at the Crown Point Community Theatre, located at 1125 Merrillville Road, on July 11th-13th, 18th -20th, and 25th-26th, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00 pm, and Sundays @ 3 pm. Tickets are $15 and worth every penny. You can find them on the web @ www.cpct.biz or call @ (219) 805-4255. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a commendable stage presentation of Hamlet in Crown Point, Indiana, this summer.

Addendum: Hamlet’s Soliloquy

To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

Works Cited
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford, 1976. Print.

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3 comments

  1. I’m sorry about the loss of your brother via suicide. I understand, both intellectually and personally, the compulsion to consider death by one’s own hand. Also, on more than one occasion, have attempted to talk my husband down from an impulsive, irrational suicide gesture (his method of choice was by gun, as well). And I have a girlfriend who attempted suicide twice (Tylenol PM with an alcohol chaser), and we talked at length about the untenable life circumstances she was in that made suicide seem like the only viable option.

    Could you do me a favor and read this post?

    http://thesprightlywriter.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/why-recovering-from-suicidal-crises-is-hard/

    We live in a culture with deeply mixed-up priorities and for all the myriad ways we have at our disposal to ‘reach out and touch someone’, we are more disconnected than ever. This is exceptionally the case when we are struggling with the downward spiral that leads to suicidal ideation and attempts.

    And, our government has done a terrible job at helping our veterans heal the trauma of war when they come home.

    Dr. John Zemler, Ph.D. a disabled US Army veteran, blogs about healing PTSD on his blog PTSD Spirituality (you can look it up on wordpress).

    He writes on a post called Art and Craft Can Heal PTSD Soul Wounds:

    “PTSD inflicts blemishes and fractures upon our soul. Those wounds to our soul are meant to force us into isolation and then kill us. Those soul wounds are meant to make us sever healthy relationships and seek out porn, drugs, reckless sex, booze, and oblivion.”

    I agree. He updated his post since I first read it, but he once had come right out and said, “PTSD wants you dead” or something like it.

    But wartime experiences aren’t the only sources of trauma. I write about it a lot on my blog. Thanks so much for the read, the likes and the follow. I usually have been a regular poster, but I have been taking a leave of absence for a while.

    ****

    Yesterday, I printed out your review and read it when my daughter and I stopped for dinner just before we saw this play. I’m a friend of Grant’s, and though I could tell it was going to be a good show from what I saw of one of the rehearsals, it was wonderful to read an objective viewpoint.

    I do appreciate this review, and I will be taking a look at your other posts, too.

    I can relate to “literary study! (I know…sounds riveting…this is how I relax and have fun!)”

    I can’t say that I have any in-depth analysis of anything academic on my blog, but simply enjoy the process of tying in concepts from the various philosophical ideas that come into my field of view. And very often, ideas from different sources dovetail each other very nicely. Sometimes quite mysteriously, I’ll be guided as if by an invisible hand to pick up a book and read a page at random which echoes something I’d recently read.

    I can’t say I’m much of a fan of pop culture…however, I really, really enjoyed the show and the modern elements introduced into this version of Hamlet. My daughter, who is 12, saw the show with me and it was enjoyable for her. I’m so glad I was able to introduce her to Shakespeare at such an early age. I wouldn’t have taken her if it was more traditional.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing.

    Casey

    1. Thank you so much for your patronage, Casey. I will read your article and comment there about my observations and experiences with suicide. I agree with your commentary about suicide here, especially how it is socially defined and disregarded on many levels. It is an authentic illness that demands greater attention and understanding. I appreciate how it can affect us all, yet most are unwilling to broach the topic.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the play and enjoyed my review. It was a genuine treat to watch Grant’s Hamlet! I also appreciate your interest in literature; it’s interesting to note how easily literary study can influence academic studies, such as psychology, physiology, and anthropology. As such, I might suggest that you do indeed provide in-depth analysis in your blog, worthy of academic consideration.

      I plan to attend another night of Hamlet on one of the approaching weekends, and I want to bring my daughters to see if they will enjoy it, also. Thanks for letting me know about your daughter’s experience with the play.

      I will read your article, and I am following your blog as we speak. I look forward to reading your posts. Thank you for reviewing mine.

      Scott

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