Lies and madness are central to Hamlet, perhaps the most prominent Shakespearean play, in which the young prince of Denmark discovers the truth behind the foul death of his father and struggles over what to do about the revelation. Eventually immersing itself in the madness of the work, the Boston College theatre department’s rendition of the play reflected on the implications of revenge.
Directed by Scott T. Cummings, the BC Theatre production gave the traditional Shakespearean masterpiece a haunting modern twist with updated technology and casting.
Hamlet began as one would expect—the characters emerged dressed in medieval garb adorned with spears and chainmail. With the first appearance of Hamlet (Michael Mazzone, MCAS ’19), however, it became clear that this production was not going to adhere to the production’s traditional renderings. Wearing a bomber jacket covered in skulls and the angsty teenager staple Dr. Martens, Mazzone’s Hamlet mixes two seemingly very different worlds, with his modern-day pieces coupled with a large, Elizabethan ruff around his neck.
In the famous scene where Hamlet meets the ghost of his dead father, two extra actors (Jessie Shaw, MCAS ’19, Elizabeth Koennecke, MCAS ’19) suddenly appeared on the stage, and eventually the audience inferred that those actors were, in fact, new manifestations of Hamlet.
From then on, Hamlet was portrayed by several actors at once, sometimes speaking in unison, and other times sharing lines, handing off speeches to each other seamlessly. Whenever Hamlet encounters an important moment, a new Hamlet enters, eventually filling out the roster of five different Hamlets (including Aidan Mallon, MCAS ’22, and Dustin Uher, LSEHD ’19, in addition to Mazzone, Shaw, and Koennecke), with different genders, different ways of dress, and their own specific personalities: One Hamlet was brooding, while another was flirtatious.
Watching different actors to portray the same character of Hamlet, the audience could visualize the disorienting madness that envelops Hamlet over the course of the play. Each cast member flawlessly exhibited the many faces of the famous character through their total immersion in their respective edition of the prince.
The performance made use of the intimacy of the Bonn Studio—the audience could hear the actors running behind them, continuing scenes even after they had disappeared from sight. The balconies were also in use, as figures would surface from the darkness to add more dimension to the work. Characters would also sit among the audience members, giving an immersive feel that proved even more haunting. Every single audience member got a different experience of Hamlet, as different angles of viewing the play revealed hidden perspectives that an audience member sitting from a different angle would not have been able to see.
Screens and cameras were also introduced into the production, as one of the Hamlets always carried around a video camera that live broadcasted his surroundings onto the four screens in the room, creating an eerie atmosphere. This element highlighted the themes of paranoia of being watched that decorate the dialogue and action of the play. The screens also showed text prompts from time to time, asking haunting questions about the being of man and reinforcing moments of the play. In one instance, the ghost of Hamlet’s father attempted to remember him, and the screens dutifully reminded the audience of that rememberance several times in the play.
Beyond the set, the actors did a tremendous job showing the complexity of the characters and both the good and the ugly in human emotion. The portrayal of Ophelia by Marnie Russell, an exchange student from the University of Glasgow, was especially spectacular, as Russell perfectly embodied the purity and naïve hope of the maiden, as well as pitiful madness after the events of the tragedy shakes her to the core.
BC’s Theatre’s Hamlet triumphs in its creativity, using modern technology and cultural cues to breathe fresh air into the timeless work. As the characters grapple with their morals, emotions, and madness, the audience is also left to ponder morality, mortality, and the difference between decision and action.
Featured Images by Tim Healy / Heights Staff