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Kevin Noonan | Friday, August 24, 2012

Big, big disclaimer at the outset: I am not a theatre scholar. I am not a Shakespeare scholar. In fact, 99 times out of a hundred, I spell “theater” like a real American, “er” instead of “re.”
In a review of a performance of “Hamlet,” one of the greatest works of art in history, my approach is that of an outsider looking in on the spectacle, as I imagine most students at the University who view the play this weekend might be.
And as an outsider, with limited knowledge of the nuance and true depth, I can say from simple first-person observation that the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s final show of the season, “Hamlet,” is a fast-moving, visually striking and overall gripping performance.
The opening scene of the play sees almost the entire cast on stage for the funeral of King Hamlet, and the physical presences of the different key actors and visual choreography sets the tone for the whole show.
Hamlet is physically apart from the rest of the mourners on stage in the scene, and his stature and physical movements fairly portray the uncertainty and self-doubt that torment the classic character.
Andy Truschinski, a veteran of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, stars as Hamlet, and does a more than adequate job. He looks and feels the part from start to finish, and the audience feels his internal torment.
However, because of the lofted status of the role, it’s hard to say he was outstanding. With a character as famous as Hamlet, an actor must truly blow away the audience in order to break away from the pack, and good as Trushinski was, he falls just short of spectacular.
Jeff Cummings as the antagonist, Hamlet’s uncle and stepfather, King Claudius, steals the show. Cummings is delightfully and powerfully wicked on stage, playing both sides of the character – the sickly-sweet traitor and silently tormented soul – with equal force.
Claudius is a character sometimes overlooked in the story, as Hamlet dominates so much of the attention. But in this show, Claudius transforms into the most fascinating and eye-grabbing character in the production. Every time Cummings steps on stage, he commands complete attention and delivers a truly fantastic performance.
King Claudius was not the only standout either. Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover turned mental case, and Horatio, Hamlet’s friend and confidant, are both played with surprising strength and soul.
The director, David Bell, deserves praise as well. He has choreography in his background, and it shows in the strongly coordinated scenes.
Equally impressive is his choice of setting. The characters are dressed in modern clothes, looking like they’re taken out of the 1950’s, with the title character being dressed in what prep-school clothes throughout. This makes the show more relatable and gives it a much crisper feel than the flowy, old-timey look of Shakespeare’s time might have dictated.
Bell’s most insightful directorial choices come in his abridging of the play. Though a straight reading of the text might take around four-and-a-half hours, Bell’s breakneck-paced version comes through in just under three.
This accomplishes two things. First, the play moves along at such a quick pace, the audience is constantly on their toes. There is never a dull moment, never a temptation to drift off.
Second, and more artistically important, is it captures in a physical sense the rapid and chaotic nature of the story. Hamlet loses his father, sees his mother marry his uncle, kills his lover’s father, enacts a plan of reveng, and dies along with his mother and uncle all within a period of a few months. With a play that moves so quickly and slows down for nothing, the audience truly gets a feel for the hectic series of events.
Notre Dame students may not be ready to break down the story for a literary journal, but as far as relatable and palatable plays go, this one is one of the best students will get the chance to see this year.