Aimed at older children, SCT’s ‘Hamlet’ hits mark

  • By Alice Kalso Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, January 31, 2008 12:45pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

SEATTLE — Keep it simple. That mantra may have run through playwright Rita Giomi’s mind as she recently undertook the job of turning Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” into a play for older children and their families.

The original “Hamlet” can run 4 hours and has 25 characters. Giomi trimmed characters, scenes and favorite lines, while attempting to preserve the heart of what many consider Shakespeare’s best work and perhaps the finest play ever. Her finished script is a more manageable 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Last weekend, Giomi’s adaptation opened at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Well acted under Giomi’s able direction, the world premiere captured the essence of this tale of treachery and revenge in faraway Denmark.

The play is recommended for ages 11 and older. At opening, there were perhaps more adults than children in the audience, brushing up their Shakespeare and enjoying a good story. Afterward, the audience gave the five-member cast a well-deserved standing ovation.

Giomi’s tightly focused script hit the mark, balancing well-timed action with graceful language. Shakespeare buffs, and others, will recognize lines that have come down through the ages, such as “To be or not to be: that is the question” and “Get thee to a nunnery: Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” Others less schooled in Shakespeare can focus on the action-filled story line. There’s a particularly well-played sword fight near the end.

The play begins as Prince Hamlet returns to Denmark to find his father murdered and his Uncle Claudius proclaimed king. Claudius also has married Hamlet’s mother. From out of the sky — literally — the spirit of the late king seeks out Hamlet. This scene is strong, with King Hamlet’s ghost depicted as an eerie puppetlike figure hidden behind a translucent curtain.

The spirit brings young Hamlet a tale of woe. Claudius murdered King Hamlet to seize his crown and his wife. Young Hamlet vows to seek vengeance.

Hamlet can’t just kill his uncle. Instead, he feigns madness to ensnare Claudius. Wrestling with himself, Hamlet ponders life and the nature of man, while delaying to do the deed. Hamlet’s instability also affects his girlfriend, Ophelia. Sometimes he shows ardor, other times disinterest.

Despite the vision of the ghost, Hamlet decides to test whether Claudius did, indeed, kill his father. He sets up an actor to play out a story similar to the treasonous act Claudius committed. During the play, Claudius becomes very agitated: Hamlet is determined that Claudius is guilty and must be murdered.

The remainder of the play pits everyone against each other: Claudius attempts to send Hamlet to England with a letter to the King of England asking to have him executed. Hamlet accidentally kills Ophelia’s father, thinking him to be Claudius. At the end of the play, there’s a swordfight scene that leaves everybody dead. No wonder this work is called a tragedy.

This certainly is no play for younger children, nor for the faint of heart. For others, though, it is a well-written, well-acted production that does justice to the Bard.

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