Mediocre visuals, but strong casting in ‘Hamlet’

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It’s difficult to ruin the wonderful experience of seeing “Hamlet,” a play with such a high caliber reputation.

But the Independent Shakespeare Co. came very close to doing so when it presented the renowned Shakespearean play at CSUN April 20-22. The seven-year-old, New York-based company is still finding its niche in the theatrical world, looking for the best way to present Shakespeare’s plays, so things may be different at the next couple of performances this summer in Hollywood’s Barnsdall Park.

But if things don’t change, audience members can look forward to a very simple version of “Hamlet.”

Though the visuals were lacking, the cast did a superb job in acting out the 17th-century play, with every actor and actress also contributing a unique quality, and speaking Old English.

Throughout its three-day stint at CSUN, the production company opened the play with the famous scene of Bernardo, Francisco, Horatio and Marcellus meeting on a cold night. After a few words are exchanged between the group, and Francisco leaves, the men experience the spooky viewing of the deceased king.

With wooden sticks in hand, the three actors convincingly pretended to have seen the dead spirit of King Hamlet senior. Nevertheless, it was hard to believe or get into the play with the main character, the younger Hamlet, dressed in normal street clothes.

To get into the feel of the play, you may have to use your imagination. Hamlet’s father appeared as a ghost and told his son he was murdered by his own brother, who put a toxic poison in his ear. But it was hard to believe he was a ghost with no type of stage effects or creative costume design; he simply looked like a zombie/man with a wrinkled blue shirt on, and white, pajama like pants.

But other factors make up for the lackluster costume and stage design. The company’s main focus was simply telling the profound story of Hamlet. The intermingling of comedy and tragedy Shakespeare did so well was conveyed well in this performance.

Hamlet, played by David Melville, really appeared hurt finding out his father was murdered by his greedy, power-seeking uncle, Claudius. The struggle Hamlet goes through of dealing with his father’s death and his uncle’s unjust reign as king is touching.

Hamlet brings his actor friends to Denmark, and tells them to re-enact the death of his father, so he could see the reaction on his uncle’s face when the plot unfolded.

Michael Keith Morgan, who played Claudius, played a convincing role in his soliloquy as a king troubled by the sin of his murder and the convictions of his conscience.

Throughout the play, the struggle of Hamlet contemplating the murder of his uncle also intensified the recognition that there is a struggling nature in man.

After the accidental murder of Polonius, Hamlet became the centerpiece of a murder plotted by King Claudius and Alerts.

Claudius plotted to spar a sword fight between Hamlet and Alerts, and with Alerts cooperation, also planned to put a deadly poison on the tip of Alerts’ sword. Once Hamlet’s skin was cut open, he would die.

To seal Hamlet’s fate, Claudius also planned to put poison in Hamlet’s drink, in case their first murderous plot didn’t go according to plan.

The ISC did a good job of giving thrill and suspense as the story continued to unfold,, giving credit to important qualities that make Hamlet famous.

Hamlet and Laertes dual it out, and after unpredictable circumstances, Hamlet, Laertes, his mother Gertrude and King Claudius all die in the end.

Overall, the Shakespearian tragedy was executed well, with a wonderful, effective, surprise ending. The play ends with Hamlet speaking last and dying in the arms of his friend Horatio.

Hopefully ISC will have the same effects at its next performances, with better costuming and stage setting.