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Hamlet’ Hits DPAC

Kevin Noonan | Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival (NDSF) closes this weekend with its production of Shakespeare’s classic, “Hamlet.”

The festival, which began mid-July, concludes with this performance by the Professional Company, Notre Dame’s professional theatre company in residence.

The story follows Hamlet, a Danish prince who is the son of the recently-deceased king and nephew of the newly-crowned king. After a visit from a ghost who claims to be his father, Hamlet learns his father’s death was no accident. The ghost reveals Hamlet’s uncle had actually murdered the former king. As Hamlet determines whether or not to exact revenge, Hamlet enters a state of feigned madness in order to avoid suspicion from his uncle.

The play’s brooding journey toward vengeance and the internal conflict it causes in the titular character have fascinated audiences for centuries, and it is regarded by some critics as one of the greatest plays in English history.

This version, however, may be one of the most relatable for students. In addition to being modern dress instead of a more old fashioned costume, producing artistic director Jay Paul Skelton said it’s fast – relatively speaking.

“This particular Hamlet is probably one of the shortest Hamlets that I’ve seen,” Skelton said. “[Director] David [Bell] and I agreed that we needed to tell the story, but in a way that was very quick, and energetic, yet gave full flavor to what Hamlet is all about.”

Director David Bell is at the head of Shakespeare at Notre Dame for the third time, previously directing “The Merchant of Venice” in 2011 and “Twelfth Night” in 2009. Bell is highly regarded both nationally and internationally, Skelton said, and he has a grip on a story that many may feel like they already know.

“[David] discovered [through the abridging process] how to make the show really dynamic and exciting and this incredible amount of forward momentum, because we all kind of know the play, and what he wanted to try to do was rediscover the surprise of the play,” Skelton said.

Bell, in addition to being a regular director in the Chicago area, is a professor at Northwestern University, which Skelton said gives him a good understanding of the importance of balancing professional theater and the educational experience of a festival at a university.

An experienced group of actors fills out the cast. Andy Truschinski, who performed in NDSF’s production of “The Merchant of Venice,” stars as Hamlet. Broadway veteran Lisa Brescia joins him on stage in the role of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater member Elizabeth Ledo as Hamlet’s equally-tormented love interest, Ophelia.

Even if an actor has done Shakespeare before, Skelton said each experience would be a different one.

“A director may say, ‘Have you thought about this? You might have played this scene before but have you ever thought about this aspect of the scene?'” he said. “And especially if that actor has played the same role, he or she hasn’t played the same role opposite the other person before, so that person is going to give you a whole bunch of different information, and invite you to respond differently than you might have responded to a different actor.”

The show started Tuesday night and runs through Sunday night at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Tickets and performance times are available through the DPAC website, performingarts.nd.edu.