Old article: Aquila Company Production of Hamlet

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/5l98b3 A watercolor of Hamlet, Act III, Scene iv: Hamlet makes a pass through the arras.
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection
http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/5l98b3A watercolor of Hamlet, Act III, Scene iv: Hamlet makes a pass through the arras.

Aquila Co. Returns to the Maine Center for the Arts with 'Hamlet'

Article By: Bridget Eileen

Posted: 4/13/06

The Aquila Theatre Company's unique production of "Hamlet" at the MCA this Tuesday left most of the audience pleased but not completely dazzled. The same plot line was followed and the adaptation veered only mildly from the original lines. The real surprise was the contemporary setting, which brought a modern slant to the plight of Hamlet and his family.

The stark, heavy wooden furniture audiences expect to see in productions of the medieval Danish play was still used but in an imaginative manner. Five heavy chairs, three sets of three wooden panels each and a large, wide rectangular box composed the spare, versatile set. Each character in the play moved the set pieces during musical interludes between scenes. They arranged their assigned pieces in somber, elegantly choreographed moves while staying in character. This unique staging offered the audience additional visual montages, strengthening character development throughout the play.

Costuming followed the current fashion of the upper class, helping to immediately establish the present-day setting. Each costume piece was perfectly telling of the character wearing it. The conniving King Claudius, brother and assassin of Hamlet's father, wore sleek, finely tailored suits with silk ties in bright purple or indigo, the color of kings. Hamlet, a rogue monarch, wore a t-shirt and corduroys but also wore a sports coat, signifying the prince cannot completely abandon all decorum.

Lighting was dark and shadowy, which is expected for a tragedy in which all major characters perish by the end. The backdrop was a scrim that looked like the bottom of a stone well. When lit from behind, it gave a gray blurred distance to the characters behind it, as necessary for when the ghost of Hamlet's father appears or when Hamlet watches the burial of Ophelia from a distance.

Andrew Schwartz as Hamlet offered a striking contemporary interpretation, especially of the familiar monologues such as "to be or not to be." His pacing and inflection sounded more like characters in modern dramas. He displayed Hamlet's psychosis with modern ticks, like smacking his head repeatedly and twitching like a patient from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." This modernization worked marvelously throughout most scenes and was quite compelling.

Fairly disappointing was Emily Bennet as Ophelia. Her performance lacked energy and dragged what could have been intense scenes with Hamlet way down. The lack of chemistry between Ophelia and Hamlet in this production made the intensity of the "get thee to a nunnery" scene odd and unbelievable rather than maddening and disturbing. After the intermission, though, Bennet did seem to pick up a little as she frighteningly portrayed Ophelia's madness after her father's murder.

Polonius, the loquacious father of Ophelia, played by Andy Patterson, was spot-on and delighted the audience. Queen Gertrude, played by Natasha Piletich, also fulfilled her role as the seductive sophisticate. Jay Painter was a real scene-stealer in his slapstick role as the grave-digger. The pacing of the banter between Hamlet and the grave digger is key to the scene's humor and neither actor missed a beat. It set the audience up for the disconcerting and dark conclusion of the play.

Overall, the artistic direction and contemporary adaptation of "Hamlet" by the Aquila Theatre Company was a good play to watch. It could be a fantastic production if all the components were tighter.