Bwog’s Wednesday Daily Editor, Jed Bush, headed to Lerner Black Box last night to witness the biggest deal ever–Columbia does Hamlet.
I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Shakespeare—my exposure in high school was mostly limited to second period English, where I used our class readings of As You Like It, Twelfth Night and the Tempest as a chance to catch up on sleep. Yet when approaching Hamlet, it was hard, even for me, not to feel a certain gravitas, and I’m sure the cast and crew felt the same way. Its legacy speaks for itself and is so ingrained in western culture that even Roland Emmerich can’t resist destroying it.
So as I entered the Black Box last night, the minimalism of the production immediately struck me; the set modifications were limited to two sheets hanging on the stage, the props were few and far between, and the costumes were simple and modern, not unlike what you might see along College Walk. In clumsier hands, this approach could have felt lazy, but here it accentuated the few choices director Thomas Kapusta (CC ’12) did make (including portraying King Hamlet’s ghost as a silhouette against one of the sheets), while shining the spotlight on the actors.
Hamlet, played by Brian LaPerche (CC ’12), is tasked with balancing the overwrought, tortured soul with the cocksure, condescending prince, and does so with ease. The scenes where Hamlet embraces his smarmy side were quite entertaining and, to LaPerche’s credit, despite an air of complete pretentiousness, still managed to charm the audience. That said, as LaPerche, donning a nondescript black hoodie, slipped back and forth between these two extreme personas, he evoked images of a spoiled, angsty teen who drowned out his agony with the Elizabethan equivalent of Linkin Park. While the production as a whole seemed quite self-aware of some of Hamlet’s absurdities (both as a play and a character), here, Kapusta risked the production falling into self-parody.
Much like the titular character, the rest of the play also seemed to be suffering an identity crisis, with hilariously over-the-top performances by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (wearing distractingly bright yellow and red costumes) providing a jarring contrast with Chuck Roberts’ (CC ’12) understated, yet chilling, Claudius. Victoria Pollack (BC ‘12) and Tara Pacheco (CC ‘13) playing Ophelia and Gertrude, respectively, both avoid flashy or revelatory interpretations of their characters, instead providing nuances to their character that helped bring them to life in an endearing, also understated, way. Still, with such a wide range of interpretations, it was again hard to find a balance and see Kapusta’s vision for how these eclectic pieces would come together.
Yet, in these two seemingly irreconcilable sides to the play, Kapusta managed to marry them in an unorthodox fashion, relying on the production’s stand-out performance—Michael Abraham (CC ’12) as Polonius. Abraham juggles bumbling, senile, and good-intentioned simultaneously, bridging the gap between the eccentricities and the shadow of tragedy by coupling his superb comedic timing and delivery with a real earnestness. Every time Polonius was on stage, the audience was either captivated, in stitches, or, occasionally, both. Abraham brings a real human touch to the extremes of this tragedy.
As the play reached the climax, the two faces of Hamlet (the character and the production) finally began to bleed together and the many pieces fell into their place. While the various fringes of the first half felt disjointed, here, the performances came together as the tension built in a crescendo. The return of Daniel O’Neill (CC ’13) as Laertes brought a real sense of rage to the play, which had been mostly dealt with angst up until this point. When it came time for the bodies to hit the floor during Laertes and Hamlet’s thrilling showdown, I was transfixed. Despite having read it before and seen countless variations of it on the stage and the silver screen, I found myself (literally) on the edge of my seat, waiting in suspense. Though it may be rough around the edges and often perplexing in its incongruities, KCST’s Hamlet never bores. Coming from someone who’s ambivalent to Shakespeare, that’s no simple feat.
KCST’s Hamlet is playing in the Lerner Black Box 7:30 pm Friday, and 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm Saturday. It’s free. All shows are sold out, but if you go and sign up on the wait list, you can probably get it.