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Theater Review: Hamlet abridged

Seeing William Shakespeare’s plays presented with a  “concept’ can provide a fun, new interpretation for audiences overly familiar with his work. When it doesn’t work, you get “Hamlet in Space.” When it does work, it looks like the Francis Taua/Kristi Scott-directed “Hamlet abridged.” Here’s a shorter, hipper and altogether unique take on the tragic tale of the Danish Prince…presented by a very-young cast, who transport the setting to a modern locale but still deliver their lines in Iambic Pentameter.

The tale begins in traditional fashion, opening with a Ghost (played by Samson Ching) appearing before fearful guards (played by Guy Schrufner, Ajah Rajvong and Audrey Barth). However, once we meet Hamlet (played by Oona Griffin), his mother Gertrude (played by Amelia Shaw) and his Uncle/Stepfather  Claudius (played by Makoa Montero), we’re inside the headquarters of Elsinore Fashion Magazine. The covers of fashion magazines, headshots, working models and revealing text messages give Shakespeare’s timeless thriller a post-modernist nudge that actually works.

Shakespeare purists (aka, snobs) will note how Hamlet’s long conversation with the Ghost, subplots on the events outside of Elsinore castle and the classic gravedigger scene have been eliminated for this version. Yes,  I missed hearing about “Poor Yorick” but here’s the thing: this is a 90-minute telling of “Hamlet” that really moves and manages to keep the essence of the story intact. If you’re going to trim the Bard, present him via a young cast and to an audience willing to experience a carefully truncated version of his work, this is how you do it.

There is a real kick and even light satire in this fun conceptual telling, with text messaging, phone pics, and a lively model haven providing a unique new setting for the dark tale.

I especially liked Ophelia’s outwardly mad monolog, cleverly portrayed with her wearing disconnected ear buds.

There is fire in Griffin’s eyes during her moments of Hamlet’s ascension into madness. I believed in her unguarded rage and found the casting choice to be intriguing. I’ve never seen Hamlet played by a young woman before. For all the Concept Bard out there, Griffin’s smart choices made me wish more productions would cast the title role with a female actress. The legendary and lengthy “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy has been shortened for this version; Griffin’s recitation of it is so good, I wanted her to keep going. Ditto “The Play’s the Thing…,” which she evokes with gusto.

Other acting standouts include Montero, a great Claudius, evoking an authoritative but unsettled presence. Isobella Kent and Dayna Fronda  take the fun concept of Rosencratz and Guildenstern as visiting fashion models and run with it. Kayla Brainard is an excellent Polonius (I especially liked her take on “To Thine Own Self Be True”). Kelsey Hendricks makes an ideal Ophelia and Samson Ching offers a strong presence as the Ghost.

The cast is primarily made up of Kihei Charter School students, all in grades 6-8, who began rehearsing with Taua and Scott back in January. Despite only meeting once a week and rehearsing in two hour increments, Scott, Taua and a troupe of very young thespians have accomplished a remarkable feat. The actors push through the daunting and intimidating hurdles of performing the greatest play in the English language. Everyone on stage is to be commended for their commitment to this demanding production. “Hamlet” is an Everest for actors of all ages (it certainly was for me at the age of 22). I left this production inspired by the work of the young cast, who can add William Shakespeare to their resume before they’re old enough to drive.

Hamlet abridged is presented at the Pro Arts Playhouse and runs May 18-19, 7 PM. Tickets are available at proartsmaui.com or by calling 808-463-6550.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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