In the director’s notes, Melon Wedick writes, “The play you are about to see is and isn’t Hamlet.” True. This Montford Park Players production is both recognizable and reassembled, and it’s onstage at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater through Saturday, Sept. 29.
Player 1 (performed by Jane Hallstrom) opens the show with a fearsome delivery of the story of King Priam’s death at the hands of Pyrrhus, the Greek warrior. Both the embodiment of a Greek chorus and a Cassandra figure, Player 1 addresses the audience in this experimental retelling of the revenge tragedy. Wedick wants us to consider, among other things, the perception of madness. Is Hamlet truly driven mad with a vengeful compulsion to murder? Or he is sane but shaken to the core by the immoral behavior of his relatives and the threat an internal coup poses to Denmark?
Jon Stockdale — in the title role — delivers an outstanding portrayal of a brave, indignant royal son. With grace and ferocity, he moves around the stage in a finely calibrated performance. Hamlet is a man haunted by ghosts. He may be unhinged, but he’s still smart enough to sniff out deceptions. Hamlet cannot extricate himself from his fate. It’s well-trodden literary ground — destiny versus free will — but the configuration of this show values thematic exploration over an obligation to the Bard’s text. For example, characters share the soliloquies, which allows for a more in-depth consideration of those in Hamlet’s orbit.
Two supporting cast members merit comment. Horatio (Molly Graves) represents steadfast loyalty, which is in sharp contrast to the betrayal of Hamlet’s family members. Graves offers a solid, impassioned performance as the one reliable friend to whom Hamlet can turn throughout the play. Horatio is an equal to Hamlet in this play, not just a sidekick. He bears his responsibilities honorably until the end, a tribute to the ideal of true friendship.
Ryan Martin plays Laertes — the brother of Hamlet’s potential wife, Ophelia — a role that could have been easily overshadowed by Ophelia (Jamie Knox) or Hamlet. But the playful scenes between this Laertes and his sister are delightful. Later, in his moments of grief, Martin shows his capacity for portraying the rawness of despair for the losses his character suffers.
The minimalist set design, rendered in primary colors of black, white and red, gives ample room for hooded ghosts to dart in and out of a white forest of leafless trees. The word Denmark, in tall, red letters, fills the upper stage, as if to remind us that this is a story of a nation soaked in blood. The forest is a metaphor for Hamlet’s mind: a disturbing place where the harangues of the dead linger.
The state is ruined, the offense is rank and what a piece of work is man. It’s all there, but fashioned so as to present these familiar characters a bit differently. The most visible change is modern clothing, such as tennis shoes, T-shirts and dark jeans. Other more substantive deletions of content are meant to quicken the play’s pace.
We know the calamity is coming. With the hero, so goes the country, and those left behind mourn him and a nation that could have been.
WHAT: Hamlet by Montford Park Players
WHERE: Hazel Robinson Amphitheater, 92 Gay St., montfordparkplayers.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Sept. 29. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Free to attend, donations accepted. Chair rentals available for $2