While Romeo and Juliet is likely the Shakespeare play that is most instantly recognizable to the general public, Hamlet can’t be far behind. The image of a man holding a skull and waxing poetic immediately brings to mind the term “actor,” even for those who do not attend theatre regularly. Hamlet is a perfect example of a Shakespearean tragedy, with a high body count, foul deed, and one of the most tortured souls ever seen onstage. Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre’s current production of Hamlet succeeds in bringing to the stage a talented Prince of Denmark, supported in varying degrees of success by the remaining characters, design choices and direction.
For those unfamiliar, the basic structure of Hamlet is built upon the plot point of Hamlet’s father, the King, being murdered by his brother, who then within two months married the Queen, his brother’s widow. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, away at school during these events, returns home to grieve his father’s passing and simultaneously recoil at the sight of his mother cavorting with his uncle, and is visited by his father’s ghost, who informs him of the circumstances of his murder. The remainder of the play concerns itself with Hamlet’s struggle to figure out the truth behind this ghostly revelation and his yearning for revenge.
Adam Kampouris, a “special guest artist” and the only paid member of the cast (courtesy of a grant) is simply wonderful, especially considering this is his Shakespearean debut. He has a natural ability with the language, and extraordinary stage presence — whether he is in the throes of anguish or having a laugh with college friends. There is debate amongst scholars as to the age of Hamlet; most infer he is at least 30 from certain details in the script, but there are also other signifiers that he is a decade younger. The tendency is to cast Hamlet as older, to bring gravitas and maturity to the demanding role. Kampouris is certainly a young Hamlet, about 20, therefore his intensity could occasionally come off as the dark brooding of an angsty teenager. One wonders how much more ferocious his rendering of Hamlet will be in about ten years.
The performance reviewed was technically an open dress rehearsal, so one hopes that many kinks of the show will be worked out in further performance. That being said, the bulk of the show’s secondary characters seem unsure of what to do with themselves when they are sharing space with Kampouris, who so easily commands attention. There is a great deal of fluttering hand motion and open mouthed anticipation on the part of Gertrude, played by Barbara Bates Smith. However, she has a compelling grasp of the language when it is her turn to speak. Other supporting players swing between woodenness and a tendency to overact, two trends that could perhaps have been cut off at the pass by more careful direction. Claudius, played by Steve Wall, is especially guilty of this, and also of running his lines together and obscuring the meaning.
Horatio, played by Colin Tate Lasley, demonstrates exactly how an actor should listen actively when in a scene, has a graceful way with the language, and is appropriately intense during the most dramatic points of the play without being over the top. Also, Trinity Smith’s Ophelia is a perfect rendering of the young woman’s journey from dutiful daughter to bereaved madness, and her most intense scene with Kampouris in the first half of the show is one of the best of the production.
Steve Lloyd appears to have designed the entire production in addition to his directorial duties, which seems to have resulted in a lack of design cohesion. The set is sparse and angular, which befits the tone of the script, but the costumes contain pieces from multiple time periods, from pea coats to a hot-pink sequined shirt. This disjointed design undercuts the feel of the production. And a note: The show runs a full three hours plus intermission. That being said, the pacing of the second half is faster than the first, and the sword fight at the conclusion is one of the highlights of the entire show.
Shakespearean tragedy is no small undertaking for any theatre, let alone a community theatre, and HART should be commended for taking this risk. For hardcore Shakespeare fans interested in witnessing a burgeoning young talent tackling one of the hardest roles there is, this show is not to be missed.
[Editor’s note: The cast includes some very experienced actors: Barbara Bates Smith, Steve Wall, Michael Lodico, David Hopes, Trinity Smith, Jason Williams, Scott Keel, Dwight Chiles, Tom Dewees, John Winfield, Terry Nienhuis, Christy Bishop, Thomas Butler, Steve Crider, Hugh Burford, and Kay Edwards and Sean Bruce. Musician David Bruce has composed a percussion score which he performs live during the show. Actors will give a talkback following all performances.
Audiences can choose between two versions of the play: The traditional cut, with a running time of approximately three hours, and the entire uncut version, which has a running time of about four hours. That special performance will be Saturday, Nov. 21. Part One will be at 3 p.m. and Part Two will be at 7:30. There will be a dinner break between performances. HART will present the traditional version on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for Adults, $16 for Seniors, $5 for students and teachers. Box office hours are Monday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. 456-6322 and www.harttheatre.com. Performing Arts Center at the Shelton House, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville.]