Editor’s note: A BAMirror reviewer was unable to attend Hamlet. Fortunately, BCAC Executive Director Laura Knochen-Davis was in the audience during opening weekend (April 29-May 1).
By Laura Knochen-Davis
“To thine own self be true” is one of many familiar lines from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, being performed through Sunday (May 8) in Watters Theater at Binghamton University. That may have been a guiding principle for director Anne Brady, who decided to utilize an imagined contemporary Denmark with costumes and weapons that the audience could relate to in hopes to draw the audience into the story.
Hamlet has been identified as a weird hybrid: as “a revenge play,” it is an Elizabethan thriller. Will Hamlet revenge his father’s death and will he be successful? However, it is also a political play about the tenuous relationship between Denmark and Norway and a philosophical play that asks existential questions that we all face: “Can our actions actually affect change?”; “What do we owe the dead?”.
It may take a few minutes for someone not familiar with 400-year-old English or the story of Hamlet to be able to follow the plot, but the actors did a masterful job in their use of the language and their ability to perform the very challenging material. They were able to engage the audience throughout the entire production.
Brady noted, “In order to make the text understandable to our audience, I worked quite a bit with the actors in a variety of ways. It is very important that the actors know specifically exactly what they are saying. If they don’t understand the words, neither will the audience. Additionally, the actors explored all kinds of exercises that helped put the text into their bodies so that they have not just an intellectual understanding of what they are saying, but a true experiential understanding in their hearts, guts and spirit of what the words they were saying meant as well as the words that were said to them.
“But almost more important than that was the exploration of what each character’s wants or intentions were. By that I mean how the actors used Shakespeare’s language to affect change in their partners and go after what they wanted; the more specifically an actor works to affect his partner, the more we will understand the play as we in the audience are also creatures with desires who use words to achieve our goals.”
Danielle Nigro’s portrayal of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, was outstanding. She was able to capture the character’s emotional struggles so effortlessly that you sympathized with Hamlet’s plight. Nigro was fully vested physically as well as mentally into the role. Her athleticism, subtle mannerisms and inflections were so well done that it made it easy to sit back and enjoy her stellar performance.
Another very notable performance was by Thomas Mackin (Horatio), whose friendship with Hamlet was evident and genuinely felt. Hamlet’s mother (Gertrude) as played by Emily Mohoney exemplified elegance and grace while showing a true love for her son. Eric Berger made an imposing presence as Claudius, the murderous brother of the King of Denmark.
Margaret Leisenheimer as Ophelia did a fabulous job as Hamlet’s sometimes love interest and then was authentically disturbing in her descent to madness following her father’s sudden death.
The duel and rivalry between Laertes (Dylan Poulos) and Hamlet, directed by Jamie Cheatham, were intense and impressive.
Craig Saeger’s set is remarkable, a solid Elizabethan structure which helps ground the story in its traditional values. The contemporary costumes designed by Andrea Lenci-Cerchiara as well as contemporary props, unique music and sound made the production more reachable for today’s audience. The lighting effects, projections, and overall experience created by the John E. Vestal strongly supported the dramatic atmosphere while inviting the audience to connect with what has happened and imagine what is to come.
As I sat in the audience last Saturday (April 30) of this noteworthy production with a talented cast, superb set and some of the best directing I have ever seen, I was surprised that I was not sharing this experience with more members of the Greater Binghamton community. I invite you to take advantage of this opportunity provided by Binghamton University’s Theater Department to learn, love and appreciate Shakespeare.
IF YOU GO: Performances continue at 8 p.m. tonight (May 6) and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 8) in the Watters Theater of the BU Fine Arts Building. Call 777-ARTS (777-2787) or visit theatre.binghamton.edu for tickets.