There are many things to be learned from seeing Beowulf Alley Late Night's production of Hamlet 1.0.
First, and maybe most importantly, we learn that Shakespeare's classic piece is intriguing and compelling to a new generation of theater-practitioners. These young actors and their director took on an extraordinary project and approached it with thoughtfulness and spunk.
We also learn anew that Hamlet is a complex, poetic and wrenching story. The young Prince of Denmark (Alex Greengaard) is a complicated character confronted with extreme circumstances. To have one's uncle, Claudius (Aaron Guisinger), kill his own brother, your father, and then marry your mother, Gertrude (Teresa Simone)—well, that would be enough to make you mad, in both the angry and crazy varieties. Figure in the father's appearance in ghostly form, demanding that Hamlet set things right—which, of course, would induce blood and suicides and other calamities—and you've got one heck of a story.
The Beowulf production is actually an adaptation of Shakespeare's piece. The program doesn't identify a particular adapter, but implies that the group itself did the cutting and honing, which resulted in an economical five characters and a two-hour running time.
As we watch these actors attempt to understand their characters and embody them—and then somehow communicate it all to us—we are reminded that acting is a skill as well as an art, and that good training is required to get done onstage what you must. There are many who believe that acting is a talent, and that you either have it, or you don't. That is so not how it is. There are such innumerable skills—physical, vocal, analytic—to be developed over years of study that it takes a dedicated student and a dynamic group of instructors to undertake the task of building an actor.
I make this point, because the lack of solid and fundamental skills overwhelms the efforts of this troupe. This is not an untalented group, but they are unequipped to handle what is required of them—especially in such an iconic piece of dramatic literature, which has taxed and teased and taunted the most magnificent of actors. From the basics of movement, diction and working with the voice, to truly listening to each other onstage, to the gargantuan task of fully embodying a character who makes sense to the performer and to the audience—this group, to a person, needs work.
Still, even in a limping fashion, these guys give us quite a bit. We get the basics of the story, and we get to know the gist of their characters, though not their nuances. We understand much of Shakespeare's tongue, and we even feel for some of the characters, particularly Hamlet, which is how it should be.
Director Nicole Scott has made some interesting and even intriguing choices. This is a rather unadorned production. Maybe it was out of necessity, but the starkness of the production was appealing. Black backdrop and walls, and a couple of black boxes to sit on or use in some generic way—that was it. This was not a concept piece, for which I am thoroughly grateful. (I have never recovered from a production of As You Like It done in Japanese kabuki style.) Lighting was simple and basic. Costumes were modern-ish and helped the audience get a feel for the character, not define it. There was no music between scenes. The minimalism worked for me.
The pace did plod, and there was not a great sense of continuity as one scene led into the other. There was, however, a terrific fight scene as the story climaxed, with tons of energy and focus—you tempt fate if you slack off when punches are being thrown and swords are slashing the air. There was no credit given to the person who staged the fight—there are specialists who do that sort of thing—so perhaps it was the troupe themselves. They certainly weren't afraid to tackle other daunting tasks.
It is obvious that a lot of hard work by youthful folks went into this show, and those efforts deserve our applause.