In high school, as a lover of all things Lit, I took an Honors Shakespeare class. I looked forward to the class every other day, and especially when we would get a chance to read the lines aloud. I loved imagining I was a character in one of these most famous plays. While I never actually got to grace the stage as a Shakespearean beauty, I did receive the invaluable pleasure of being in the audience the Salem Theatre production of Hamlet on Sunday afternoon.
From the heavy beat of solemn and foreboding drums marking the beginning of the very first act, and which repeat at significant scenes throughout the performance, the audience was alert to the dark tragedy and drama that lay ahead of us. Throughout the show, even though it’s most likely possible that we had all read Hamlet in our lives, it was as if we were anticipating every line, every moment, every dramatic episode as if what we were witnessing was something brand new. And in several ways, it was; Salem Theatre Company is breathing new life into one of Shakespeare’s most renowned and timeless plays.
Modern, darkly colored dress (with the exception of a few royal and theatre troupe characters) and a simple set allow the acting to really speak for itself without distraction of any sort.
Ariel Zuckerman gave a stellar performance as a more determined, confident, yet cautious Hamlet who does not have so much of internal struggle with the question of whether to avenge his father’s death, but how to ensure that yes, this is the right thing to do and what might be the best way to go about it. The emotions – rage, heartache, grief, wit – which Zuckerman portrays in the climactic scenes, as well as the advantageous bouts of madness which his character Hamlet uses to manipulate those he is interacting with t is utterly believable and captivating.
Other standouts include Dave Rich, who plays both an eerie ghost of King Hamlet as well as his murderous, conniving brother Claudius, and Linda Goetz as the naive Queen Gertrude holds reign over the audience each time she speaks. Polonius (the father of Laertes, played with conviction by Tom Rash and Ophelia, played by Elena Faverio) is reimagined here as Polonia; a cunning, meddling mother whose intrusiveness causes her to meet her fate. Giving a female role to this character is a welcome twist on this classic play, and Polonia is played brilliantly by Karen Trachtenberg.
Elena Faverio gives an enthralling performance as Ophelia, winning the audience over with her sweetness and adoration of Hamlet’s affections, and bringing sorrow to the stage as Ophelia, all too really, descends into madness and eventual death. Kyle Gregory (who I saw and loved as Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart) is another Salem Theatre standout as Horatio, Hamlet’s dutiful best friend who serves as his confidante throughout.
Hamlet is wonderfully directed by the exceptional Caroline Watson-Felt, who truly knows how to make a Shakespeare play appear larger than life in a small space.
Hamlet is the last play that is being performed in the “black box” theatre on Lafayette Street, and while the new theatre at Shetland Park will be larger to accommodate more guests, the finale of the black box era is one you don’t want to miss. The upcoming showings of Hamlet are as follows; November 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, & 21 at 7:30 p.m., as well as another Sunday showing, November 15 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $12-$25 online and $15-$30 at the door. Visit http://www.salemtheatre.com to purchase yours!