Among the challenges inherent in producing a classic such as Hamlet is this question: how do you make it fresh and interesting for seasoned Shakespeare fans while keeping it “true to the script” and also rendering it accessible to newcomers? Honest Pint Theatre Company’s “uncut” version of Hamlet, playing now through July 31st in the Leggett Theater on the campus of William Peace University, manages to score high marks on all counts. Fresh interpretations of the lines and the characters abound, they all fit nicely, and the performance is easily understood by even the newest of Shakespeare audience members.
It is a rare treat to have the opportunity to attend an un-cut production of any Shakespeare play and rarer still to have such an opportunity with Hamlet. Most theaters consider it risky to attempt such a feat. And, indeed, it is downright dangerous if the pace is not brisk and energetic. This production, however, is never in any such danger because, under Jeremy Fiebig’s direction, it is a bundle of energy, start-to-finish. To quote Hamlet himself: “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” and we think this production is quite good. We consider ourselves lucky and honored to have had the opportunity to see it.
Upon arrival, we found ourselves greeted by several members of the cast. There was live acoustic music playing in the lobby where food and drink were available, and then there was other music playing onstage when we entered the theater. Also, in the tradition of theaters of Shakespeare’s time, there were seats available for audience members onstage.
One very nice touch: Honest Pint begins the show with a funeral march for the deceased King Hamlet, complete with Danish flag on the casket. This brief spectacle gives a few previews of relationships that unfold in the course of the play. (By the way: watch for another scene that includes a flag.)
They then launch into the first scene where the soldiers and the scholar meet the ghost. This scene is played with more humor than we have ever seen before. In particular, Mike Raab’s Horatio is superb. Raab invests the lines with an unprecedented measure of wit and good-natured sarcasm, and every single nuance fits so perfectly. As the scene ended, we found ourselves eagerly awaiting more Horatio. Yet, the serious side of the scene was not lost. The dire implications of the appearance of the ghost were all there.
The second scene sets up several relationships. Simon Kaplan’s Claudius is every bit as pompous, politic, and regal as we might expect; but the character does not emerge as entirely unlikable. The chemistry between him and Tamara Farias’ Gertrude is instantly apparent and real, and he shows a genuine interest in the well-being of his subjects and the kingdom.
Farias establishes Gertrude’s love and concern for her son Prince Hamlet. And we see the initial moves in the “game of chess” between Hamlet and Claudius. The scene also sets up the dynamics between Claudius and many of the other characters. Pay close attention to the interchange between King Claudius and Cornelius and Voltemand, and look for an echo of the blocking when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive — younger versions of the “type,” a concept that has always been there but never so apparent to us as in this production.
Mark Philias’ Polonius, Wade Newhouse’s Laertes, and Vera Varlamov’s Ophelia come to life in the third scene. Brother-Sister, Father-Daughter, and Father-Son relationships are nicely defined; there is genuine mutual love and respect. As Polonius delivers his “precepts” to Laertes, Newhouse and Varlamov make it delightfully obvious that this is not the first time such a lecture has been delivered. It is worth mentioning that, silly as the character appears in many places, Philias presents Polonius as much more than the “tedious old fool” that Hamlet sees him as. And both Newhouse and Varlamov manage to provoke the audience to tears later in the show.
David Henderson creates a Hamlet that speaks from the heart in his soliloquies. In his interpersonal interactions, the character ranges from light-and-breezy to icily-sarcastic to deathly-serious, to wild-and-whirling … when appropriate. Fans who are familiar with Hamlet’s “Speak the speech” lecture can tell that Henderson has internalized Shakespeare’s ideas about acting. Indeed, Henderson’s Hamlet is a true “mirror up to nature” on so many different levels.
Sunday afternoon’s “MC” was Chris Milner, who made everyone feel at home when he addressed the audience before the show and during the two intermissions in a relaxed, witty style. Milner also appears as Marcellus, as Guildenstern, and as “Second Clown” (one of the grave-diggers), performing each role with aplomb.
Like Milner, most of the company members play multiple roles.Aaron Alderman’s portrayal of Reynaldo, Osric, and “First Clown” stands out as an example of three distinctly different characters played by the same actor, each delightful.
In addition to the show’s opening funeral march, this production has several solid production choices. The staging of the interaction between Hamlet and the Ghost is masterful. Sound (by Will Mikes) and lighting (by Jack Lewis) in this scene are especially effective. Likewise the staging of Gertrude’s closet scene and Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech are excellent. Pay close attention to who is in each of these scenes and where they are placed.
The set, designed by Shannon Clark serves well, creating the feel of a castle while retaining the flexibility to represent other locations such as a graveyard and a seashore.
Teaching a graduate course in Shakespeare’s Tragedies at North Carolina State University, Dr. Larry Champion told our class “one should re-read or see Hamlet at least once every year.” Honest Pint Theatre Company’s production offers an excellent opportunity to fulfill that exhortation.
SECOND OPINION: July 21st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article90798612.html; July 20th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/hamlet/Event?oid=5048324; and July 14th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 interview with director Jeremy Fiebig and actors David Henderson, Tamara Farias, and Simon Kaplan, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/many-interpretations-hamlet#stream/0. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 21st Triangle Review review by Dustin K. Britt and the July 21st review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/07/honest-pints-uncut-version-of-hamlet-is-engaging-surprising-and-funny/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/07/this-uncut-hamlet-is-an-extraordinary-experience-for-honest-pint-patrons/, respectively.)
Honest Pint Theatre Company presents HAMLET (uncut) at 7 p.m. July 22 and 23, 1 p.m. July 24, 7 p.m. July 29 and 30, and 1 p.m. July 31 in the Leggett Theater on the second floor of Main Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $22 ($13.60 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: https://honest-pint-theatre-company.ticketleap.com/hamlet/.
SHOW: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/#!hamlet-ensemble/lgdpy and https://www.facebook.com/events/485683504961176/.
PRESENTER: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/honestpinttheatrecompany, and https://twitter.com/honestpintthe8r.
VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://www.peace.edu/files/shared/peace_virtual_tour/main.htm and http://www.visitraleigh.com/listings/Leggett-Theatre-at-William-Peace-University/59630/?maxshow=10.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c. 1599-1602 play): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hamlet-by-Shakespeare (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and http://web.archive.org/web/20081013145206/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaHamF.html (First Folio version, courtesy University of Virginia).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/study-guides/hamlet-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Jeremy Fiebig (director and Assistant Professor of Theatre at Fayetteville State University): http://www.uncfsu.edu/arts/faculty-and-staff/jeremy-fiebig (FSU bio).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.