Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hamlet" & "As You Like It"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"As You Like It"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Diego Arciniegas

Music Composed by Steven Barkheimer
Musical Arrangements by Charles Parker
Assistant Director ("As You Like It") Richard LaFrance
Assistant Director ("Hamlet") Suzanne Nitter
Technical Director Thomas M. J. Callahan
Assistant Technical Director Tamazine Taggart
Set Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Nathaniel Packard
Costume Design by Christine Alger/Elena Ivanova
Sound Design by Stanley Gurezak
Fight Choreographer Tommy Day Carey
Fight Captain William Church
Spedcial Acknowledgement Jeannette Hawley
Assistant Stage Managers ("As You Like It")Will Ley & Elizabeth Jenkins
Assistant Stage Managers ("Hamlet") Nerys Powell
Stage Managers Greg Nash ("As You Like It") & Cathie Regan ("Hamlet")

"As You Like It"

Duke Senior................Bern Budd
Rosalind..............Suzanne Nitter
Amiens................Charles Parker
Jaques.............Steven Barkheimer
1st Lord/Dennis..........Mark Lawson
Corin................Ciaran Crawford
William/Charles.......John Beresford
Sir Oliver Martext/Adam...Bill Salem
Phebe.................Meaghan Boeing
Audrey............Elizabeth Wightman
Duke Frederick......Steve Barkheimer
Celia.................Sarah Newhouse
Le Beau...................Eric Hamel
Touchstone............William Church
Oliver...............Derry Woodhouse
Orlando..............Derek Stone Nelson


Hamlet..................Diego Arciniegas
Claudius...............Steven Barkheimer
Gertrude................Nancy E. Carroll
Horatio...................William Church
Polonius.......................Bern Budd
Laertes..................Tommy Day Carey
Ophelia.....................Val Sullivan
Ghost/Player King.............Bill Salem
Gravedigger/Player Queen...Billy Meleady
2nd Gravedigger/Cornelius.....Eric Hamel
Rosencrantz..................Jason Myatt
Guildenstern.............Gerard Slattery
Voltemand/Osric...........Charles Parker
Marcellus/Captain............Mark Lawson
Fortinbras............Nathaniel McIntyre

This is the summer that Diego Arciniegas and Suzanne Nitter declared their full possession of Boston's pre-emineent outdoor summer Shakespeare experience: The Publick Theatre. The Artistic Director and the Artistic Associate each starred in The Bard's best known tragedy and comedy, both plays directed by Arciniegas --- who cast himself as the melancholy Dane. They have accepted all the challenges: the difficulty of acting honestly while attempting to be heard; the incredibly shrinking budget during a public funding crunch; the constant threat of rain perfectly balanced by acting swathed in Danish furs; the midges and mosquitoes dancing in lights, and upstaging helicopter flights; the conflict inherent in making valid art that will attract an entertain a broad family audience; and the predations of willful yobs whose only arts are those of secret destruction. Arciniegas and Nitter this summer give notice that this 23-year-old torch has been passed to their firm hands, and good Shakespearean theater is a live and exciting on the banks of the Charles River. They (and I) invite you all to experience the power of the spoken word.

Working backwards, let me start with Arciniegas' "Hamlet" (which runs for a month) because it gives the best opportunity to examine his personal techniques as a director. For instance, it was his task to carve, out of a script that can run four and three-quarter hours uncut, under three hours of comprehensible narrative. To accomplish this, he cut many scenes (the opening scenes wherein old King Hamlet's ghost appears, for instance) but retained the later descriptions of those scenes --- keeping Shakespeare from chewing his cabbage twice, but putting faith in "the power of the spoken word". Instead, he has retained scenes that sketch in the Danish relations with a Norwegian army on its borders asking permission to march across to a battleground in Poland --- and thus making the Norwegian Prince Fortinbras the logical next king of Denmark. He has also retained a scene (which may surprise people who think they know the play) in which a mob outside the palace shouts "Laertes shall be king!" thus underlining King Claudius' shaky hold on his own crown. The cuts and inclusions almost make this "Hamlet" a brand new play.

Then there is a sense of space and pacing about his blocking of scenes. There is a point wherein a scene playing downstage concludes and, even before the actors clear the space, others enter at the top of Janie E. Howland's multilevel set beginning a scene in a different place and time. The quick shift in audience focus has the punch of a film cut, keeping the pace of the narrative lively. Arciniegas has also used the grassy banks either side of the audience as playing space in almost every show he has directed at The Publick. When they work --- as they do here --- they open the stage (and perhaps allow the crew to reset the stage while attention is elsewhere). When they don't, they distract from the theatrical "reality" of the stage by intruding real grass and real trees, which can jar.

And of course there is this actor/manager's concept of Prince Hamlet himself. He is less a melancholy than a distracted Dane, snippily, often insultingly contemptuous of others. He seems to say "Come on, doesn't anyone else see what's Really Going On here?!?" He is, after all, not only the heir to the throne but the only person who sees and talks to the ghost of his assassinated father and, mistrust this fact though he may, he knows he must set right times out of joint. He plays all the soliloquys down on the (thankfully newly-planked) apron of the stage, most often speaking directly to the audience --- often directly to one person. These interludes serve to explain why he tries so often to shake things up.

And then there is his own style of playing --- which includes sudden pauses underlining ideas or words, quick switches in thought in the midst of sentences, matter-of-fact truths in soliloquy contrasted with quick quips puncturing the pomposities of his friends Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, of Prime Minister Polonius, even of the King himself. He is quick physically, mercurial in switching temperaments, and continually pushing the action forward with his wrath, distain, and wit. I think he would have made ann exciting but dangerous king of Denmark. (And he and Tommy Day Carey give a gloriously exciting display of theatrical swordsmanship at the play's finale!)

But as Artistic Director he has surrounded himself with players able to hold their own with him in full cry. Steven Barkheimer's Claudius is an uneasy king hoping, somehow, to muzzle this loose cannon before it shatters his reign. Nancy E. Carroll's Gertrude is broodingly introspective, probably not an accomplice in old Hamlet's murder but embarrassed by the love that made her marry his assassin. Bern Budd's Polonius is captive of his own oracular pontifications and wrong-headed critiques of what's going on. Val Sullivan's Ophelia, already doomed when her loving Hamlet's mind turns from wooing to vengeance, seems manipulated both by Polonius her father and by the playwright himself. Tommy Day Carey's Laertes runs a gamut of changes from wastrel student to Hamlet's nemesis, and eventually to his forgiven, forgiving murderer. As Horatio, William Church is the Prince's only comprehending confidant, the only surviving witness left to tell the bloody tale.

These are the principals, directly involved in the action, but no one in this cast merely swells a scene; each has a moment to be siezed. Billy Meleady's Gravedigger, and Eric Hamel as his foil, are the only commoners Hamlet encounters, jesting glibly, philosophcally about death itself. Jason Myatt and Gerard Slattery (as what Tom Stoppard's taught us to call "R & G") are pleasant old friends bewildered by their uneasy situation, and Charles Parker's Osric more a servant-messenger than a courtier --- just as Mark Lawson is a captain explaining the army on their way to Poland, and so they play their parts.

For the play within this play (Done entirely as a shadow-play) Bill Salem is an eloquently exaggerated Player King (after having appeared earlier as King Hamlet's ghost in the one encounter in which the Prince sees and talks to this ghost), Billy Meleady as an almost unrecognizable Player Queen, and Nathaniel McIntyre both the Player Villian and, come to late to prevent the carnage at play's-end, marches in as the obviously commanding Fortinbras.

This is, from King Claudius' opening speech, a swiftly moving, absorbing, intensely felt, movingly original production of a play that unfolds almost like a mystery novel. If the weather holds and no one drops of heat-stroke, this should become the must-see Shakespearean hit of the entire summer.


More To Come!

"Hamlet" (15 August - 15 September)
"As You Like It" (5 - 28 July)
Christian A. Herter Park, 1175 Soldiers Field Road, BRIGHTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide