American Players Theatre: Hamlet

To be or not to be…almost became not to be when I waited until the very last day to stream the American Players Theatre Hamlet. And that would have been a silent tragedy as this is the most engaging and relatable version of Hamlet that I remember seeing.

Nick Burger as Hamlet with Yorick, photo courtesy of APT

As always, the focal point of this play is the character of Hamlet. And the play will be made or broken on how the actor perceives the personage of Hamlet, his relationships in the play, and how he decides to employ Hamlet’s apparent madness. Nate Burger was an incredible casting choice and here he is at the peak of his powers and as I said above…delivers a very real and very relatable Hamlet. This was just an incredible experience for me and now I am sorry that I didn’t make a second trek to Spring Green to see and hear this in person. Sometimes Hamlet as played is a bit too distant but here we feel an incredible empathy for and understanding of the character. Burger has always been an engaging actor, but this was simply his most outstanding performance!

Jamal James as Laertes, Chike’ Johnson as Polonius, photo courtesy of APT

Chike’ Johnson is the consummate Polonius. A bit haughty, a bit officious, but clearly a man in charge and a man in control of his destiny. Johnson has him down, precisely. I hope to see him in future APT productions…and sometime in the future, I’d like to see him play Claudius!

Triney Sandoval as Claudius, Colleen Madden as Getrude, photo courtesy of APT

And what a satisfying and regal couple we have in Colleen Madden as Gertrude and Triney Sandoval as Claudius. No doubts at all about the situation they find themselves in. No concerns in the world other than what the heck is wrong with Hamlet! Madden and Sandoval play the preening detached pair just the way you expect these two characters to act. And Sandoval’s reaction to the play within the play is priceless.

Laertes is played by Jamal James. And he easily takes on some of the characteristics explored by Johnson as Polonius…so he presents a striking and obvious son to the elder statesman. But he also, within propriety, exhibits the excitement of youth and that eagerness to strike out on his own in France…despite the obvious ties to his father’s purse strings. And in his own grief he is readily willing to conspire with Claudius to kill Hamlet.

Chike’ Johnson as Polonius, Alys Dickerson as Ophelia, photo courtesy of APT

And Alys Dickerson gives us the equally dutiful daughter, Ophelia, willing to listen to her father even though it goes against her heart. Dickerson gives a great reading of the doubtful young woman who is trying to balance social mores against her young persons instincts. She truly makes us feel the tragedy that befalls her character.

And the ghost of Hamlet’s father is played with sufficient regal bearing and foreboding by David Daniel to make us feel and fear his presence. Although I did feel that some of his spoken lines were overwrought…but his presence was quite intimidating on itself.

And this performance was perfectly understandable. No attempts to go deep into Elizabethan accents or pronunciations and as a result the dialogues gave us the complete story and the full beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry.

cast of Hamlet, photo courtesy of APT

And the costuming here was amazing. Of no discernible era, it enhanced the depiction of the characters in very transparent fashion. Daniele Tyler Mathews really outdid most costuming conventions for Shakespeare plays. Neither dependent on Elizabethan stylings nor outrageously usurping modern dress, Mathews combined styles across the centuries to complement the character’s traits and exemplify their actions in the play. So an Elizabethan vest here, an exaggerated 1930’s wide lapel man’s suit there, 1950’s clothing, an early 1960’s woman’s office casual jacket and slacks, to any number of costumes that bore a regal look without an identifiable period. And of course the costume for Hamlet’s father that helped install that ominous regal mien that David Daniel brought to bear here.

SO: this was directed by Jame DeVita. Bravo!! In past seasons the watch has always been, what is DeVita playing this season. Going forward we must all add to that, what is DeVita directing this season.

And to my readers, I am sorry. Because I procrastinated to long this has closed on stage as well as the streaming version. Hopefully the streamed version will be available again sometime in the future.

American Players Theatre: Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing! A lesson in the importance of precision in language!!

Although a devoted fan of Oscar Wilde and Larry Shue, I have never quite gotten on board with Tom Stoppard’s work. But with APT’s boisterous and rousing Hill Theatre presentation of Rough Crossing, adapted by Mr. Stoppard from a play by Ferenc Molnar, I have a new appreciation for Mr. Stoppard! And every piece to this play was pitch perfect.

I seldom pay much attention to wardrobe, but the characters here are dressed exquisitely for their roles and the time period. The costumes set the perfect mood and totally pulled me out of the now and into the era of the play. Bravo to Rachel Anne Healy!

And before I go on further, Scott Adam Davis’ set put us asea on a cruise without distraction despite having to work with the historic rustic stage of the Hill Theatre as his base!

Now Stoppard has a great deal of fun opening this play with four of the principal characters on the balcony of playwright Sandor Turai (James Ridge). He is accompanied by his partner, Alex Gal (Jamal James), and their new composing partner Adam Adam (Josh Krause), and as the occasion calls for their foil and narrator and salvation, the steward, Dvornichek (David Daniel). This is probably the most difficult part to play because it requires impeccable timing and stage positioning on the part of all of the actors. If there’s just a bit of a hesitancy, a good bit of the humor can be lost…as well as an understanding of the relationship of the characters and particularly how Dvornichek works the magic that is the play! And hesitancy itself is in fact a character here, so it requires all the more care. The fours actors execute right on the money and director William Brown has envisioned a staging that plays just just right!

Josh Krause, James Ridge and Jamal James, Rough Crossing, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

The four actors here seem to have been born into these roles or are successfully channeling actors from the period without effort. David Daniel as Dvornichek (aka Murphy, you’ll have to see the play to understand) moves effortlessly from steward to life saver to announcer to seer! A marvelous bit of acting and aplomb for what I consider the pivotal role in the play.

Josh Krause, James Ridge and Jamal James, Rough Crossing, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of American Players Theatre.

Now there is a little sub-plot here and even if you have no experience with Rough Crossing, this probably won’t be a spoiler. But like many a classical play there is a play within a play or a play implied within the play and any number of alternate takes, starts, middles, or endings to all of them…a multi-tiered and multi-faceted piece. This game is laid in the opening lines and although it seems smooth enough, the only one in control is Murphy and maybe some of you!

So now the stage is set, we know that misdirection, misunderstanding, and precision in language will be the engine that drives the humor from here on in…so time to introduce drama, subterfuge, angst, and a love interest! So we add a balcony scene from above featuring the remaining lead actors from our play, but the intended lead actors for the storied play being developed by Mr. Turai, Gal, and Adam! A former Juliet, Natasha Navratilova (Kelsey Brennan), has the cabin just above Mr. Turai’s. She is the current love interest of Mr. Adam but the former lover of smarmy actor Ivor Fish (Marcus Truschinski) who is now putting the moves on Miss Navratilova within plain hearing of our trio of playwrights, including Mr. Adam. So off we go in the main farce that is Rough Crossing!

Marcus Truschinski and Kelsey Brennan, Rough Crossing, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of American Players Theatre.

So I found myself immersed in Rough Crossing…certainly putting aside our current era and issues…and wonder what the future holds for the multi-talented Dvornichek (and David Daniel as well)!!

And when it’s over you will need something to relax your funny bone, maybe a cognac?

Rough Crossing continues through August 7, 2021 at the APT’s Hill Theatre or can be streamed and watched at home through that date. Click here for ticket and event information!

Marcus Truschinski, Jamal James, David Daniel, Kelsey Brennan, Josh Krause and James Ridge, Rough Crossing, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren. Courtesy of American Players Theatre.

The American Players Theatre Announces Its Live Summer Season: The Road Back

I am not going to spend any time explaining what The American Players Theatre plans for their 2021 Live Summer Season…because Brenda DeVita is doing it far better than I! But APT’s summer seasons have been rewarding summer experiences for me for nearly 20 years and I was blessed in being able to introduce them to my wife when I got married and she is as eager to attend their challenging and creative company again as I am!

The video runs just under ten minutes but it has all of the details and there are things very new and very exciting and very innovative in the coming season. But if you can’t sit still long enough, here is the schedule…but watch the video…this simple list doesn’t provide a fair explanation of what they are offering.

Now I know you have a lot of questions about how they are going to present live plays on both their indoor and outdoor stage…so visit their FAQ site here. Or their general news items are found here.

And once more the link to the plays.

This is great news on a dreary little March afternoon…sorry to be such a obvious cheeleader today!