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Thunder River’s production of ‘Hamlet’ opens Friday

Jessica Cabe
jcabe@postindependent.com

IF YOU GO...

Who: Thunder River Theatre Company

What: “Hamlet”

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27-28, March 6-7, 12-14 and 2 p.m. March 8

Where: Thunder River Theatre

How Much: $25 for adults, $14 for students and $17 for 20- or 30-somethings. Buy tickets at http://bit.ly/1MSh2sb

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” is one of the most quoted lines from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and one of the goals of Thunder River Theatre Company’s (TRTC) production of the famous play is to find out why that is — and what it means today.

“It’s really about an underlying thing that’s in society and culture,” said Lon Winston, founder and executive director of TRTC and director of “Hamlet.” “My response to it is, ‘What in the hell is going on in the world today?’ Well, there’s probably not a generation on the planet in any culture of the world that has not said to their people, ‘What in the hell is going on?’ So, for me, that’s the answer. It’s about all those things that we trust will just go away, and they don’t.”

In TRTC’s production, the line is not political. It has more to do with the personal turmoil Hamlet is experiencing after his father is killed by his uncle, who then marries Hamlet’s mother, and the way everyone around him seems to be turning the other cheek.

In fact, the politics in Shakespeare’s unabridged 4-hour play have been completely cut out of TRTC’s production.

“We’ve edited the play to two hours and 15 minutes,” Winston said. “And in doing so, I didn’t just arbitrarily go in and cut scenes. I focused on the ghost play and the revenge, focused on Hamlet and the relationship with his mother, Claudius, Laertes and Ophelia. That’s it. All of the politics are cut out of the play.”

This allows the production to focus on the humanness of the characters with whom audiences can most empathize. David Pulliam, who plays Hamlet, said one of the major appeals of the show is an audience’s ability to see the world in Hamlet.

“Hamlet is sort of a mirror for humanity,” he said. “The play shows all the range of emotions people go through.”

He thinks that emotional dynamism is part of what makes “Hamlet” stand out even among Shakespeare’s work.

“‘Hamlet’ runs the gamut of everything,” Pulliam said. “And everybody loves a revenge story.”

In deciding to include “Hamlet” in TRTC’s 20th anniversary season, Winston said the fact that “everybody loves it” was not a good enough reason to stage the show.

“It’s our 20th anniversary, and I wanted to do one show that was bigger than Thunder River,” Winston said. “‘Hamlet’ is it. ‘Hamlet’ is the big play, right? If you’re a mountain climber, you want to do Everest. But to me, that’s not a reason to do it, just because it’s there. There are interesting themes for me and elements in the play that I think really resonate with a contemporary audience. I like finding the metaphors and images that open a door for the audience to experience it in a new and fresh way.”

In addition to editing out any political subplots, the production is unique in its minimalism. The costumes are character-appropriate but not elaborate. The set is merely a stage with staggered levels covered in black fabric. Winston relies heavily on lighting to convey time and space — and purgatory. He said with such a massive play, less is more.

The subdued production choices allow audiences to focus on one of the most beautiful and challenging parts of the play: its language.

“The way that Shakespearean English is written is sort of backwards,” Pulliam said. “It’s poetry. I think that’s the real struggle with Shakespeare: The stories are great, but it’s making it accessible to an audience.”

Thunder River’s “Hamlet” is accessible not only because of the skill with which the actors deliver their lines, with enough emotion that audiences could understand the meaning no matter what language they were speaking, but also because of Winston’s reworking of the script.

““I’ve deconstructed the play and put it back together again, Winston said. “That’s really exciting to me. I like doing with plays. I don’t just do plays.”


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