Theatre Unbound’s Hamlet: “To Be Or Not To Be” and the Punk Grrl

by Adam M. Schenck

Our lives have seasons, and the Bard himself tells us that “All the world’s a stage.” And as Aristotle teaches us in his Poetics, catharsis is the purgation of our emotions via the experience of tragedy. That’s three big concepts, but I want to answer a simple question: What is the use of another production of one of Bill Shakespeare’s greatest hits?

Time, performance, and reflection: these are the elements of life, and they are the reasons that we tell and retell the same stories. The stories don’t change; we do.

Hamlet-163_2_2 In this vein, I took much pleasure in Theatre Unbound’s all-female production of Hamlet. With a star turn from an athletic Kathryn Fumie in the titular role, director Leah Adcock-Starr reimagines Hamlet as a story about youth revolt in the punk style. As we age, we gain solace in the rules that govern people, but young people have no such fealty to convention.

Nor does Unbound Theatre create an adaptation of Shakespeare in the predictable fashion. A small cast allows multiple roles for all but Fumie, and a large stage invites movement and kinetic energy I did not expect from Hamlet. In this play, the focus is on the youth, led by Fumie’s Hamlet, of course, but also Bethany Ford Binkley’s Ophelia, Nicole Joy Frethem as Laertes, and the latter two as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also.

You should know the story: Hamlet is the prince of Denmark, whose war-hero father has died only two months ago, and his mother has remarried his father’s brother. Angered by this turn of events, young Hamlet acts out, causing his family to worry for his sanity. Hamlet’s rumination and investigation unravel the royal court’s intrigues, but also condemn himself and his girl Ophelia.

The highlight for me was the second half of the play, with the physicality of the cast let loose through swordplay, fights, dancing, and singing, all well-choreographed by Annie Enneking.

Were there any missed notes? Young director Leah Adcock-Starr shows sparkling promise, but the play did start ten minutes late, and ran until 10:20 p.m.—and if I know anything about theater, it’s that a production needs to play to the audience with silver hair and thick wallets; i.e. people who are in bed by then.

Another tweak would be to make the costume changes more obvious in order to communicate that an actor has switched roles. Laura Mahler used this to humorous effect, but in all honesty I was confused as to which character Ford Binkley was playing.

So, this is not merely a production for the Bardies. It’s an experiment in youthful energy and Elizabethan English. Theatre Unbound’s production of Hamlet was not what I expected, but that is the only way to tell a story so familiar.

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Unbound Theatre’s production of Hamlet runs on the JSB Tek Box at the Cowles Center,
528 Hennepin Avenue South in downtown Minneapolis. You may see this play from May 16 to May 31. Consult <http://www.theatreunbound.com/productions/hamlet.shtml> for more information.

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