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Jeffery Neil Wacaster

Professor Daniel Inouye

Fine Arts: Theatre

8 November 2010

The honors students were treated with viewing Shakespeare’s Hamlet on October 29.

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production was a stunning rendition of this classic. Deviating

from most productions of Hamlet, the cast injected a bit of comic relief in their performance. All

of the actors, including Avery Clark, Nikki Coble, and J. Center, displayed great dramatic skill.

In addition, the scenery complemented the story quite well, although the costumes sent

conflicting messages.

A ghost tells Prince Hamlet that King Hamlet was murdered by Claudius (Prince

Hamlet’s uncle, and the new king). Clearly, Claudius killed King Hamlet to gain the throne, and

also so he could marry King Hamlet’s wife, Gertrude. Prince Hamlet, furious, swears to avenge

his father’s death. Hamlet then acts insane, confusing his girlfriend Ophelia. Ophelia’s father,

Polonius, is certain that Hamlet is simply crazy with love. However, Hamlet meets with Ophelia

and implicitly denies loving her. Hamlet begins to question the ghost’s claims, and decides to

test them by having a theater troupe act out a play similar to his father’s death. When Claudius is

deeply disturbed by the performance, Hamlet is certain his uncle is guilty. Hamlet nearly

murders Claudius, but first confronts his mother. He interrogates her about her marriage to

Claudius and then accidentally murders Polonius. Treacherously, Claudius sends Hamlet off to

England to be killed, but Hamlet escapes and returns, finding that Ophelia went mad and

committed suicide. Claudius decides that Hamlet should be killed by Laertes (Ophelia’s brother)
using a poisoned sword. The fencing match goes awry, as Gertrude is poisoned and Hamlet,

Laertes and Claudius die by the poisoned sword.

I think that the Shakespeare’s theme for Hamlet is the purpose of life and death. It also

deals with many other issues, including revenge, incest, and family ties. Taking a somewhat

different spin on the work than most other productions, the production team sought to make the

play humorous. Some of the humor seemed a bit contrived, but this did not detract from the

quality of the drama. Principally, the humorous choices added some comic relief which was

more than welcome in this three-hour-long tragedy. For example, the Grave Digger’s nonchalant

conversation with Hamlet about death was a nice respite from the depressing previous scenes. I

think that this humor may have been added to layer more meaning into the story. While Hamlet

is a tragedy, this version allows us to laugh a little at death too.

The actors in The Rep’s production of Hamlet all played their parts well. Avery Clark,

the actor who played Hamlet, portrayed him as a contemplative victim of circumstance. As

mentioned above, all of the collaborators worked comic relief in where appropriate. This was

nowhere more present than in Clark’s performance. When Hamlet pretends to be crazy, in Act II,

scene II, Clark spoke with a very humorous voice, and his comedic timing was good. For

example, his insults to Polonius in this scene were so direct and believable that the audience

could not help but laugh. However, some of the comedy seemed contrived. Yet, this may have

been one of the desired effects, as of course, Hamlet was acting mad. My favorite part of the

production was the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes. Both of the actors made the fight

very believable.
Nikki Coble played Ophelia in a very touching manner. Though the lines were dusty old

english, her voice was tender and innocent. When Hamlet breaks her heart, her emotion was

very realistic. The only flaw in her performance was when she portrayed Ophelia’s madness.

While this, clearly, was a difficult part to play, I think that her acting could have been improved.

For example, her manner of speech and movements did not seem all that “crazy” to me. Perhaps

this was just part of the way she wished to portray the character. In addition, I read in the

director’s notes that they edited the play a bit. If I had had this job, I would have taken out

several of the songs that Ophelia sings. They considerably slowed the action of the play and

were just plain odd.

My favorite actor in this production was J. Center, who played a one of the players in the

acting troupe, a soldier, and the Grave Digger. All of his roles were excellent, but the one that I

especially enjoyed was the Grave Digger. While the other humor in the story was somewhat

forced, Center’s role was genuinely funny. His scottish accent and mannerisms were absolutely

hilarious. It was especially humorous when Center talked flippantly about death and went

whistling cheerfully about his work. In addition, another reason I liked his role was that he was

the most believable of the actors. I got the feeling that in some of the scenes the actors struggled

with making the dialogue real for our time. But not Center; he spoke and acted as if he was that

character.

I thought that the scenery built for this play was especially well done. It had an

impressionistic feel, with wooden planks making a two tiered set, having a porch stage right, and

a raised platform center stage. It was at once decorative, and very simple. In addition, two

tapestries gave the opulent feel of the palace without being out of place in the other scenes. Very
little other scenery was used, but what was used was carefully chosen for the best effect. It is my

observation that the scenery which was used was directly connected to the characters. For

example, a posh couch was brought in for the scene when Hamlet confronts Gertrude. Very little

else indicated her bedchamber, but the couch was a perfect complement to the scene. I think that

the stage directors wished to convey a sense of simplicity with these designs and choices. One of

the main motivations was probably focusing the audience’s attention on the actors, rather than

the scenery.

The costumes were the most lavish part of this production. The women wore elegant

gowns, the men wore suits or military uniforms. From this, it was clear that this production of

Hamlet was set in modern times or near modern times. I think that this was a bit incongruous

with the script. I do not think of a medieval king wearing a suit. Personally, I would have rather

the characters been wearing authentic medieval costumes. I wonder if the production crew was

trying to send a message with the modern costumes. Perhaps they were trying to say that even

though the script is quite old, we still struggle with the same issues as Shakespeare’s time.

I am sorry to say that the Rep’s production of Hamlet did not have a major impression on

me. My mental energy was so focused on attempting to just understand what the characters were

saying that it was difficult to analyze it and find deeper meaning. The main thing that it inspired

me to do is that I now want to watch another production of it so I can understand it more

thoroughly.