note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark
Production Design by Doc Madison
Assistant Director/Fight Choreographer Thomas Martin
Assistant Lighting Designer Stephanie Schmidt
Costume Design by Lisa Cahill
Master Carpenter Daniel Hackett
Properties Master Cornelia Robart
Fight Captain SerahRose Roth
Daggers by Bay State Fencers
Additional Knives by Josh Pritchard
Stage Manager Heather Bonin
George Saulnier III
Cheryl D. Singleton
Ghost of Hamlet/Player King/Servant
Ever since I read that Ed Seigel asked "What makes Boston Theatre unique to you" I have considered the question, and my answer would be all those small, under-funded hole-in-the-wall companies where people come together to do brilliant, exciting work not for money nor fame but simply for a love of theater which I am privileged to share with them. And a perfect example of this excellence-on-a-shoestring spirit is Lesley Chapman's "Shakespeare in The Raw" production of "Hamlet" playing for only two all-too-short weekends in Somerville.
In a sense, Chapman's approach seems to be to accept the short-comings of her company, and to use them to advantage. The audience is scattered around all sides of the big open playing-space, and much of the time minor players melt into thin air and sit with the audience in darkness awaiting re-entry. There are no sets at all, and only a hand-full of hand props --- headband/crowns for the three royals; two books; a ring; short swords, dry flowers, a hat for Osric --- and the only thing that could be called a costume is Queen Gertrude's electric-blue gown. Production Designer Doc Madison's lighting is moodily, subtly minimal, and the music/sound by Izhar Schejter accompanying the action underlines the emotions so quitely people may never notice it is there.
More interesting is her casting, that suggests she chose people best suited for their roles with no other restrictions. Laertes, Rosencrantz, Osric and Francisco are played --- excellently --- by women; Gertrude is Black; Horatio (Dan Liston) and Guildenstern (Amar Srivastava) do not hide or ignore their ethnicity.
And yet the many conflicts and confrontations of the play strike through such differences because every character in this play --- and most of the cast play two or more roles --- is an individual human being, speaking and listening directly to one another about matters that matter, in the passionately sincere everyday iambic pentameter that still makes English interesting. Characters get their own moments --- tragic: SerahRose Roth as Ophelia when Hamlet spurns her; Josh Pritchard as Claudius trying to pray; comic: Kevin Groppe's pompous Polonius misconstruing Hamlet's madness).
And, of course, at the center of it all is George Saulnier III. His short, round-faced student first seen at the edges of the court, his nose sullenly buried in a book, his Hamlet keeps the murder of his father locked explosively inside himself. His brooding self-evaluations, ironic insolence, sudden rages, and giggly glee when he confirms his uncle's guilt --- all sorts of emotions tumble out of him as he learns things, sees things, suspects things, and tries to understand it all. A very human Hamlet indeed.
Understand, this "Hamlet" has been pruned to the bone. All the repetitions were edited out, as well as that "bigger picture" --- Fortinbras, never mentioned, won't ask Horatio to re-tell the whole story and end the play with "Go, bid the soldiers shoot!" But before the end there are explosions and fireworks enough for anyone.
Lesley Chapman has kept this amazing little theatre alive and focused and uncompromising through years of dedication and starvation, full houses and empty. The true tragedy of this "Hamlet" however, was that at the opening last night the dozen members of the cast outnumbered the audience.
But, since I have no idea whether the reviews here in The Theater Mirror have any effect on attendances, I offer this challenge:
Please, if you love live theater, make the effort to see one of the four or five remaining performances of this play. And tell them "Larry Stark insisted I see this show!" If you will, I make this guarantee:
If you don't like what you see, I'll repay you the price of admission, no questions asked.
So you can't lose. And you just might win, big-time. I did.