Arts & Culture

Get thee to Dukesbay! New Muses’ ‘Hamlet’ is a must-see

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Another practically flawless production by New Muses Theatre Company, and this time it is what many consider the greatest play ever written: William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” 

Director Niclas Olson, who also wrote this adaptation and plays the leading role, downplays the “Melancholy Dane’s” histrionics in much of the play, portraying him as a brooding and more inward-looking young man — not to mention a spoiled and arrogant rich kid — so that when he does give way to histrionics, it is explosive. 

Common wisdom says a director should be wary of directing himself, especially not in a leading role, but Olson does just that quite regularly, and he does it spectacularly. 

The small black-box space of Dukesbay Theatre lends itself perfectly to this “Hamlet.” The closeness of the seating to the actors, each of whom enunciate clearly, make it easy to hear every word, which is a real bonus because audiences often have difficulty understanding Shakespeare. 

The set and lighting (also by Olson) is simplicity itself, a backdrop of starlight against a black curtain and a single throne chair and no props other than a crop-down curtain and folding chairs that are brought in for the play-with-a-play scene, and, of course, the fencing foils and masks used in the bout between Hamlet and Laertes (Xander Layden, who doubles as Guildenstern). 

The setting is the present day. The actors wear modern street clothes with no special adornment other than the battle helmet worn by the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Juan Aleman II, who doubles as King Claudius). The lighting and costuming on the ghost of King Hamlet is perfectly ghostly. He is barely seen, and, in his overcoat and helmet, he looks powerful. 

Later, the dim lighting on the ghost of Ophelia (Cassie Jo Fastabend) is a tad too dim but still effective. 

There is a lot of double casting in this version, and the cast members who double up do a credible job of becoming totally and believably different people. Layden is excitable and expressive as Laertes and more self-contained as Guildenstern. When he performs as a declarative actor in the play put on for the benefit of the king and queen, his preening and posing seemed a parody of actors at the time. 

Angela Parisotto is nervous and fluttery as Ophelia’s mother and becomes a quite comical character as the grave digger.

Fastabend plays Ophelia marvelously. In earlier scenes when she speaks of her love for Hamlet, her eyes and her smile sparkle, making her adoration of the prince palpable. 

Newcomer to South Sound stages Victoria Ashley plays Rosencrantz and Barnardo with an intensity to match that of Olson’s Prince Hamlet. This is cross-gender casting at its finest. I look forward to seeing more of Ashley in future performances. 

I attended a Sunday matinee along with a handful of other audience members. There were far too many empty seats in what is already a tiny house. Every show should be sold out; my recommendation is get thee to Dukesbay.

alec@alecclayton.com Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.

‘Hamlet’

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 27

Where: Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma

Tickets: $10-$15

Information: www.newmuses.com

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