Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" can be a difficult play to pull off. It is long, wordy, and depressing. It’s familiar enough that a basic adaptation can be boring, and one that tries something new and different can be gimmicky. It also requires a lead actor who can deliver frequent, long-winded, emotional soliloquies and believably switch the crazy on and off without going off the rails. Underling Productions hits its stride very early on with its atmospheric, fast-paced, and high-energy version of "Hamlet", directed by Meghan Blakeman. The company strives to make classical plays more accessible, using contemporary contexts, and they have done so with the bard’s tragedy. The language pops as the actors use their bodies and other props (Gianna Coiffi) to add meaning and layers. The modernization is mostly in the costumes (Elise Williams) and set design (Allyson Capetta), and is organic, not contrived.
This Hamlet, played nearly pitch perfect by Phil Gillen, is not the moodiest Prince of Denmark, but he sure is the most sarcastic and excitable. His acid-tongued wit bounces boisterously off the walls and onto the other characters. His scenes of mania are brutal, fascinating, and very calculating. He is authentically a young man grieving his father’s death, and the performance hits those emotional notes. Interestingly, Gillen also portrays the ghost of his father, in a very "Ghost"-like way, the spirit entering his body and speaking through him. The clever lighting (Sara Watson) and sound design (Michael Feld) enhance this effect.
Another fun character choice is the portrayal of the doomed Rosencrantz (Sean Lounsbury) and Guildenstern (Barry James Acosta) as foppish clowns. Some playful double entendre comes out of their dialogue as a result. Similarly entertaining is Gabi Van Horn’s Polonius, arguably the other tragic clown of the play. In this production, Polonius doubles as the main player in the play-within-the-play, making the character’s theatricality and ridiculousness all the more pronounced. Playing opposite is his troubled daughter, Ophelia (Isabelle Russo), whose turn toward the end into grief-ridden madness can easily tread into the realm of stunt. Russo, however, strikes the right balance between delicate flower and raving lunatic.
Underling Productions sets the bar high for future adaptations. They will undoubtedly rise to the occasion with their talented cast and crew.
For more on Underling Productions, check out their website: https://www.underlingproductions.com/