Updated: Mar 25, 2022
"Of all the ways to catch a killer, few are as psychologically devious as the trap set by Hamlet."
Her face gleams keenly under an immaculate, brunette-cropped barnet. Her “inky cloaks” have been replaced by a layered, semi-contemporary set of trousers, vested, long-sleeve turtle-necks with many textures, and a grey, pinstripe tweaked with Albert chains, brooch lapel and shoulder chain jewelry, topped off occasionally with an old, contemporary T-shirt that makes a statement. I recall imagining a fashion-conscious Chairman Mao.
She immediately is all you see on stage as she glides, without either swagger or girlishness. And straightaway, Amanda Zarr (Dir: “She Kills Monsters”) knocks on the head one of the paradoxes of Hamlet.
The speeches that come out of the prince’s mouth are about dissolving, yet the person who delivers them has to be the most distinct, intense character on stage.
This is Hamlet. Hear her roar.
This Golden West College Performing Arts gender-switch production of the Danish Prince and his family drama is the brain child of Tom Amen ("Playing With Fire, After Frankenstein;" "The Great God Pan"), a master director/professor of the Theater Department, and may unsettle for a moment until you get used to the idea, but when this delicately ferocious Prince of Denmark takes the stage, nothing can stop her.
Ms. Zarr’s particular mixture of concentration and lightness ensures that she will center your attention whenever she appears. Anger is her keynote. Her voice is reedy with indignation. The speeches tumble out at high speed, as if she is surprised by her own fervor. Some dark and disturbing notes you may have seen in other Hamlet’s, she opts not to hit. She is precise rather than cloudy, cutting rather than meditative. And, she is a darn good fencer.
The play, "Hamlet," which began it’s run on March 4th, is now being performed on GWC’s beautiful mainstage theater, and continuing on into this weekend, with a closing show on Sunday, March 13th. Director Amen matches my enthusiasm for its heritage, and has reduced the play to just under two hours, cutting a few of the peripheral scenes to better appreciate its raw beauty and power. Tom Amen goes on to say, “…though it is admittedly “breezy,” and no means a perfect play…no playwright has ever come close to matching Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature, mastery of language or ability to create fascinating characters that transcend time.”
Shakespeare’s plot is simple: The ghost of Hamlet’s father (Lawrence Hemingway; “Moby Dick”) haunts the battlements of Elsinore. He enters in an eerie white suit, heralded by a forest of subdued lights which glow and fade, casting a spectral figure. He stands ominously, without gazing in either direction, audibly heard by both Hamlet and Horatio.
The ghost wants payback on Claudius (also played by an impressive, stentorian Mr. Hemingway), the brother who murdered him and married his wife, Queen Gertrude (Carrie Vinikow; “Oedipus Rex”), and he urges Hamlet to avenge his death by murdering Claudius. And Hamlet is more than ready to provide the kind of justice that has a body count. Almost from the start, Ms. Zarr sets a foreboding tone, making it clear that Denmark’s court is going to be a charnel house before the night is over. Thus begins Hamlet’s descent into madness.
Of all the ways to catch a killer, few are as psychologically devious as the trap set by Hamlet. Certain that his uncle Claudius murdered his father, Hamlet arranges for a play about a king killed by his brother to be performed at court. Claudius’ reaction to the bloody plot will reveal his guilt, or so Hamlet believes. In the play, Lucianus (Brad Vinikow; “Love Letters”) murders the Player King (Kim Brown; “The Servant of Two Masters”) by pouring poison in his ear, paralleling the murder of Hamlet's father by the real King. Julie Kirkman (“Never the Sinner”) represents Queen Gertrude in the metadrama.
Amanda Zarr anchors the ensemble; her Hamlet is volatile, deeply wounded and possibly of unsound mind. Yet even when Hamlet seems to have left his reason behind, there’s a crackling, electric current of method to his madness. Ms. Vinikow’s Queen Gertrude is wholly believable as she moves from cool, collected magnificence to wailing in terror. Scott Keister’s verbose Polonius is every inch that dithering uncle everyone tries to avoid at Thanksgiving. And as Polonius’ daughter Ophelia, Marisa Schlichtman morphs from giddily-in-love to abjectly broken within the space of a few scenes.
Director Amen’s take on the iconic story gives his “Hamlet” a haunting power. It succeeds as a thriller, a tragedy and a doomed coming-of-age story at once. And right when it seems that the evil in Denmark is too relentlessly grim to bear, Shakespeare gives us the raggedy gravedigger (again, the incredible Scott Keister). His coarse language and lusty, homespun bar songs while digging his graves provide sweet relief from the baneful actions surrounding them. Where Hamlet questions the meaning of life with bone-deep sorrow and cynicism, the carefree gravedigger greets it like a drunk in a midnight choir.
As Polonius’ son Laertes, Tristan Lund captures the hot-blooded rage of an adolescent who — just like Hamlet — is driven to avenge his murdered father. As Hamlet’s ride-or-die Horatio, Patrick Peterson, true blue cohort to the end, is the best friend everybody needs. Finally, there are Tristan Lund again, and Luke Brodowski (who also plays Osric) as Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively. With their entrance, they say a thousand things without uttering a word. You know exactly who these men are merely from watching their body language.
Scenic designer Tim Mueller has fashioned a series of massive floating islands in the air and abstract shapes within rising level platforms to provide a backdrop for most of “Hamlet.” It’s a versatile look that forces your imagination and makes scenes like moving from throne room to bedroom believable. Michele Jones’ lighting design is a silent scene partner throughout “Hamlet,” color and tone deepening the mood as the action moves from midnight shadows to unblinking daylight.
Accompanying that temperament is a portentous sound track that has been designed by Paisha Bleich. Hair and Makeup is by Michon Gruber.
Surprising, fresh and unique costuming is by Amanda Martin, who also handles Makeup. Fight Director is Michael Polak; Stage Manager is Michael Riley, and Technical Director is Bryan Dauterive.
When a play is so engaging, so well-paced and, well acted, time stands still because we are totally into the moment. Complexity is a breeze. Here, the show bucks the current trend of maximalist tragedians, and of directors creating monsters where the author intended ambiguity. There are no histrionics or melodramatics here. The verbal dexterity of this cast, led by the striking Amanda Zarr as the troubled Dane, made The Bard’s mighty text come to life with a fresh vigor that astounds, ending with a portrait of devastation, especially for the two men who we’ve come to care deeply about only over a short two hours.
In synopsis, the staging is simple, in line with Director Amen’s stripped-down text that has no Fortinbras in it and therefore little political content. The important thing is that Hamlet should take you into its speech, and so into the archaeology of everyday conversation. Which this production does, clearly, energetically, and superlatively.
GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE THEATER ARTS PRESENTS, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET, MARCH 4-13 AT MAINSTAGE THEATER. ADAPTED & DIRECTED BY TOM AMEN; WITH: LAWRENCE HEMINGWAY; AMANDA ZARR; CARRIE VINIKOW; PATRICK PETERSON; SCOTT KEISTER; MARISA SCHLICHTMAN; LUKE BRODOWSKI; TRISTAN LUND; KIM BROWN; JULIE KIRKMAN & BRAD VINIKOW.
For Tickets and further information, visit: https://www.gwctheater.com/hamlet-2021-22/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report