Hamlet presented by the Jungle Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 26 August – 9 October, 2011.

Bruce E. Brandt
South Dakota State University

Bruce E. Brandt, "Review of Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Presented by the Jungle Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 26 August – 9 October, 2011.". EMLS 16.1 (2012): 14. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revjungl.htm

Directed by Bain Boehlke. Set designed by Bain Boehlke. Costumes designed by Matthew J. Lefebvre. Lighting designed by Barry Browning. Sound designed by Sean Healey. Fight choreography by Peter Moore. The Stage Manager was John Novak. With Hugh Kennedy (Hamlet), Bradley Greenwald (Claudius), Michelle Barber (Gertrude), Gary Briggle (Polonius), Doug Scholz-Carlson (Laertes), Erin Mae Johnson (Ophelia), Phil Kilbourne (The Ghost), Paul Rutledge (Horatio), A. J. Longabaugh (Francisco, Player Prologue, Sailor, Retinue, Traveler, Gala Guest), Michael Chappo (Bernardo Messenger, Guard, Stagehand), Ryan Henderson (Marcellus, Stagehand, Attendant, Guard, Sailor, Pallbearer), Brad Kastendick (Rosencrantz), Peter Middlecamp (Guildenstern), Brandon Ewald (Player King, Retinue, Traveler, Singer, Pallbearer), Sara Truesdale (Player Queen, Retinue, Traveler, Gala Guest), Neal Beckman (Player Lucianus, Sailor, Retinue, Traveler, Gala Guest), Christopher Kehoe (Osric, Traveler, Retinue), Wayne Windschitl (Doctor, Retinue, Traveler, Player, Gala Guest), Rebecca Cho (Retinue, Traveler, Gala Guest), Hannah Holman (Retinue, Traveler, Gala Guest), Megan Reichle (Retinue, Traveler, Stagehand, Gala Guest), Lydia Thoreen (Retinue, Server, Gala Guest, Pallbearer), and Josiah Gulden (Reynaldo).

  1. The Jungle Theater, on its intimate 150-seat proscenium stage, presented not merely a modern-dress Hamlet, but a Hamlet firmly placed in the high-tech 21st Century. The play opened in the security center in the basement of the Danish Royal Palace, where Francisco (drinking a can of Red Bull to keep alert) was keeping watch on his monitor, moving methodically through the images produced by the palace’s many security cameras. He faced a gigantic screen that occupied the whole of stage right, on which the audience saw what he saw.  Up stage was an elevator door that provided entrance to the room, and its seventeen level-indicating lights, combined with the numerous monitor images, created a sense of the building’s immensity. Bernardo’s arrival, and subsequently that of Marcellus and Horatio, was first seen on the monitor (through the use of a backstage camera). Challenged via intercom from the security center, those entering were then allowed to take the elevator to the security room.

  2. Modern technology is necessarily a part of any production realistically set in the present. In Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet Romeo luckily evades security cameras, thanks to an inattentive guard, to speak to Juliet at her window. In Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet, the ghost is first spied by Bernardo, Marcella, and Horatio on a security camera, causing them to rush to confront the intruder on an upper floor of the Hotel Elsinore; later, the three again spot the ghost on a security camera and phone Hamlet to alert him to its presence on the balcony outside his room. However, the effect of the Jungle Theater’s use of this technology was quite different. Its giant screen did not merely warn of the ghost’s presence; it dominated the stage and was the medium through which the audience viewed most of the interaction with the ghost. Hamlet’s father appeared onscreen shortly after Horatio had been brought to the security room, and Horatio and Marcellus then took the elevator to the floor where the ghost had appeared. The audience watched the confrontation on the monitor, ultimately seeing them shoot fruitlessly at the unresponsive spirit. When Hamlet was brought to see the ghost, his father was again first seen on the monitor, but the ghost then took the elevator to the security room, stepped out, and beckoned Hamlet to follow him. Hamlet was understandably slow to do so, and most amusingly and utterly true to modern elevator technology, the door started to close. The ghost reached out, causing it to reopen. Hamlet was still hesitant to follow, and the door again began to close and was again held open by the beckoning ghost. Hamlet at last entered the elevator with the ghost, and the audience watched their encounter, on a different floor, via the monitor.

  3. The production’s adaptation of the action to the technology and conditions of life in the twenty-first century continued in this vein, and was realistic and convincing throughout. For example, in our time it seems unlikely that Laertes would depart Denmark by ship, and his farewell and parting admonitions to Ophelia, and Polonius’s to him, took place in an airport lounge, where they stood at a high table and had a drink. The ambience of a modern airport was created by the hustle and bustle of busy travelers. In the lounge others came and went, including a man in traditional Saudi garb who chatted with a pair of stewardesses, while in the corridor—visible through the lounge entrance—people walked by trailing their wheeled carry-on luggage. The staging of Laertes’s return was equally dynamic. Where the text merely indicates a clamor within followed by a messenger’s warning to Claudius to save himself, this production showed the King and Queen viewing CNN style coverage of turmoil in front of the palace.  When the messenger appeared with his warning, Claudius called for his Switzers—on his cell phone.

  4. Ophelia’s madness also effectively took advantage of the modern setting. After speaking with the King and Queen in a narrow room adjacent to a ballroom, she rushed into the next room, where a gala event was taking place. She grabbed the microphone and wildly and distractedly sang the songs that mark her loss of rational control. We see her both through the window and, in close-up, on the TV where the news program had been playing. Claudius, who never loses control except for his prayer scene, entered the room, took the microphone from her, and led the crowd in applause, as if it had all been a performance.

  5. A problem for modern-dress productions of Renaissance plays is how to handle the weaponry. Why would Hamlet and Laertes be using swords in an age of firearms? Here the duel was staged in modern fencing gear with an electronic scoring device keeping track of the hits on both sides. In short, the contest involved a sport in which both men competed, but these were not the weapons that they would have carried into battle. Modern dueling equipment is used similarly in Almereyda’s Hamlet film, but there, after Hamlet wins the first two passes, Laertes pulls out a handgun and shoots him, being shot in turn with his own gun as the two struggle with each other. In contrast, the Jungle Theater persisted with the depiction of the duel, with Laertes slashing at Hamlet in an interlude between bouts when helmets and gloves were doffed, wounding him not severely but mortally, because of the poisoned sword.  Hamlet exchanged swords and defeated Laertes as the script demands.

  6. The production lasted nearly three and a half hours, including two fifteen minute intermissions. Nonetheless, the text was heavily cut. The Fortinbras material was completely eliminated, and even Hamlet’s soliloquies were heavily pruned, including “Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.” It was, in short, not a production for purists. Neither, however, was it an adaptation of Hamlet, altered to fit a contemporary concept or appeal to a youthful audience. It was Shakespeare’s Hamlet well-served by a setting that was exciting and engaging to watch, and which gave one much to think about. The cast was superb throughout. Bradley Greenwald’s Claudius exuded the control and demeanor of the polished diplomat, quite in line with what one would expect of a royal in our own time, and Michelle Barber’s Gertrude possessed a forceful and commanding presence. The lengthy and demanding role of Hamlet usually requires a more seasoned actor than Hugh Kennedy, who is in his mid-twenties. However, he inhabited the part with brio and panache, and his projection of youthful irony breathed life into this contemporary incarnation of Shakespeare’s troubled prince.



Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).