Set in the sparse black box of the Studio Theatre with only generic set pieces and minimal props, Liz Carlin-Metz’s Hamlet was, as advertised, unconventional. Seldom taking the morose tone usually associated with the play, this production was buoyantly nihilistic in a fashion sometimes reminiscent of Sweeney Todd.
By limiting the play to eight actors, Carlin-Metz streamlined the cast to Knox’s best acting talent. I would write a paragraph for each name on the list, but space constraints force me to be brief. That said, Hamlet, senior Matt Allis, of course, cannot go without note. Allis presented a very real kind of depressive who always has a joke to conceal his gloom. Hamlet’s madness, or least its manic manifestation, was definitely for show in this version; he seemed driven above all by a personal hatred of Claudius that seemed to run deeper than any of its supposed causes. One got the idea that if any other uncle had killed Hamlet’s father and married his mother, Hamlet would not have reacted in quite the same way. Allis shows this with a violent, youthful sarcasm that almost evoked A Clockwork Orange. Even the “To be or not to be” soliloquy took a somewhat playful tone.
Another highlight was Ophelia, senior Meghan Reardon, who was more acidic and earthy than in her more conventional ethereal persona. In this interpretation, Ophelia was all but raped by Hamlet. Through her apparent madness, she mocked her household for their indifference. I first saw Reardon in The Baltimore Waltz when I was a prospective student, and her performance was one of the salient images that brought me to Knox. Her acting has only improved since then, culminating in Ophelia’s funeral, where her ghost embraces and silently says goodbye to the other character’s while they mourn.
Hamlet and Ophelia’s mocking and cavorting was reflected to a lesser extent by the other characters, setting a unique mood for the play. This castle Elsinore is torn apart more by irreverence than anything else. Claudius, sophomore Joey Firman, grins with more naiveté than craft, appearing to have bitten off more than could chew in murdering his brother. Rosencrantz, senior Michael Callahan, and Guildenstern, senior Nick Perry, perhaps epitomize Carlin-Metz’s interpretation, portrayed as college buffoons toting cans of Icehouse and passing joints to Hamlet. This can be taken either as a parody of Hamlet, mocking a somewhat overdone play, or as a tragic polemic against excessive comedy, showing how destructive it can be to disregard what matters in favor of a quick laugh.
The production itself dislocated the play in space and time, placing the characters in vaguely formal motleys rather than strict period garb, with a few blatant anachronisms like the gravediggers,’ senior Ariel Lauryn and Reardon, clown suits and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s Wittenberg University hoodies. There were few props and the set consisted of a few austere poles and platforms. Set designer senior Kari Lefevre said Carlin-Metz had determined that sets were not really necessary in Hamlet because the dialog revealed everything worth knowing about the setting. Thus, the goal was to draw attention to the black box theatre itself. Lafevre pointed out how she had painted the edges of the soundboards brown to make the Studio Theatre stand out.
Carlin-Metz’s take was original and thoroughly entertaining, and I would like to have seen it applied to the rest of the play. Although cutting Hamlet down to three hours might be justifiable in a community theatre or high school production, I find it highly inappropriate in a college production, especially for the reason Carlin-Metz stated in the preview published in TKS on May 1, that audiences have become unable to sit through plays lasting longer than a few hours. I would like to think that we, as Knox students, do not fall victim to the shortcomings of an “American audience.” If the future educated people of America and elsewhere lack the attention spans to sit through a four-hour play, we have a problem. The theatre department is a part of our cultural education at Knox, even for those of us who are only involved as spectators. Abridging Hamlet does injustice to the students as well as the play. If we cannot stand to see the whole thing, who in our generation will?
That said, once again, Professor Carlin-Metz and the students involved did excellent job adapting Hamlet to a new and dynamic interpretation.