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Hamlet

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Fellow dramatist Ben Jonson inscribed this epitaph for his esteemed contemporary, William Shakespeare: “He was not of an age, but of all time.” Revisiting Hamlet four hundred-plus years after its world premiere (in Africa, of all places, circa 1607), we are reminded—once again—of the truth in Jonson’s tribute.

With word treasures such as “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” “All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity,” “…to thine own self be true,” and, of course, “To be or not to be,” it becomes obvious that Shakespeare was not only a superior wordsmith; he was also a wise philosopher.

Hearing, with fresh ears, lines like, “In my mind’s eye,” “Not a mouse stirring,” and “Cruel to be Kind,” it also becomes evident how greatly Shakespeare has influenced the English language and—“it must follow, as the night the day”—its development.

Thanks to Los Angeles’ Independent Shakespeare Company, Southern California audiences now have the glorious opportunity to experience Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as if for the first time. What makes this Independent Shakespeare Co. production especially noteworthy is its pristine clarity and easy accessibility. Further, admission is free.

Even in the outdoor environment of gigantic Griffith Park—with the low purr of animal life all around, the rattling of sacks accompanied by peoples’ chewing of picnic foods, and aircraft overhead—the drama, under Melissa Chalsma’s sinewy and creative direction, jumps off the stage, landing solidly on the eardrums and pulling at the heartstrings of theatergoers.

After all, Hamlet is a lusty, robust play, famous for its abundance of madness, incest, fratricide, suicide, death, and The Hereafter. Often productions suffer from the necessity of interpretive truncation: You can’t shorten it without skewing it.  Independent Shakespeare’s production of Hamlet suggests no such problem.

Costumed in a manner that indicates no particular historic period (designed by Tamar Michelle), and on a spacious stage with towering flats colored mostly in shades of sky-blue (scenic design by Caitlin Lainoff), we can observe how Shakespeare plotted his script in such a fashion as to refute Aristotle’s notion that drama should focus on action , not character. Instead, in Hamlet, Shakespeare reversed this Greek model of drama and emphasized, through searing soliloquies and astute asides, the thoughts and motives of the various characters in Hamlet.

With actors of the caliber of David Melville, whose flighty Prince Hamlet is flush with both high alarm and winning charm (but why is he wearing a t-shirt with a beer truck image emblazoned on its front?), we are made privy to what must be among the most naturalistic interpretations ever staged of this story, which many scholars consider to be The Bard’s masterwork in tragedy—even as the plot hinges on events that are decidedly supernatural.

For instance, the incident that sets-off the action here (point-of-attract in dramaturgical terms), is the apparition of the slain King Hamlet—young Hamlet’s father—witnessed by the kings men, and creating a panic in the royal court (King Hamlet’s ghost is performed with rousing intensity by Luis Galindo).

Deceit, power-plays, and disingenuousness are embodied in Sean Pritchett’s characterization of Hamlet’s murderous uncle, Claudius—who has now taken Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, as his wife (Bernadette Sullivan’s interpretation of Gertrude lends sensual credibility to Freud’s claim that Hamlet has an “Oedipal desire for his mother”).

Also, in service to the fluidity of this Hamlet are Mary Guilliams’ fiery Ophelia, Thomas Ehas—hitting the humor artfully—as Polonius, and a lean, keen Andre Martin as Laertes (the fencing duel between Hamlet and Laertes is made breathtaking by actors Melville and Martin). Spoiler Alert! Things do not turn out well in this archetypal Kingdom of Denmark: For indeed, something is rotten there. But in terms of this Independent Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, it has the sweet smell of theatrical success.

Independent Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet runs in repertory with the Merry Wives of Windsor and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Show times are at 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until August 28, in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. For schedule and directions information, dial (818) 710 – 6306 of visit www.iscla.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.