Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Tragedy of Hamlet,
Prince of Denmark

The Garfield Shakespeare Company in Indianapolis -- after taking a one-play detour from Shakespeare to present George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" in spring -- on Friday and Saturday had its opening weekend of its fall production, "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" (if you're wondering why it isn't being called simply "Hamlet," director Joe Cook explains that he prefers the long titles).

The production is distinguished by three novelties: 1) Only three actors -- Susan M. Gaertner, Denise Rohn and Sha Collier -- had ever appeared in a GSC production previously; 2) There was a whole lot of gender-mixing going on, mostly by women playing male roles (and there was one instance of a male playing a female), and 3) The cast included a lot of teenagers.

In explaining Nos. 2 & 3, Cook said simply that he decided to roll with what he was dealt after the audition calls in July, and after looking in on both shows this weekend (Friday to shoot, Saturday to be member of the audience), I liked what Cook did and accomplished. One of his lead characters -- King Claudius -- was played by a woman, Nan Macy, who turned in a stellar performance. GSC first-timers Pete Lindblom (as Hamlet) and Brad Elliot (as Laertes) also shined, and GSC veteran Susan M. Gaertner, another woman playing a male role, had the audience enjoying her turn as Polonius, Lord Chamberlain and father of Laertes and Ophelia.

Of the teen roles, the meatiest went to Tempiellen Knuteson, who played Ophelia, letting loose with a convincing turn in the fourth act scene where Ophelia turns mentally erratic in the aftermath of her father's stabbing death at the hand of her love interest Hamlet, who had thrust his weapon blindly, through a wall drape, thinking the person he was assailing was an eavesdropping Claudius.

The GSC has one more weekend of performances of "Hamlet." Shows are scheduled for 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday (Sept. 16 & 17) at the MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts in Garfield Park in Indianapolis. There is no admission charges; the GSC is an all-volunteer organization. You can find the organization on Facebook as well.

This post features images from my Friday shoot of opening night; the photo in the lead position at the top features Tony Van Pelt as a gravedigger, preparing the final resting place for Ophelia, handing the skull of a jester, Yorick, to Hamlet, played by Pete Lindblom. For a full gallery of images from this production, visit my online site at

Above: JD Bonitz (left) as Hamlet's friend Horatio in an early scene exchange with Greg Frisby, playing castle guard Marcellus.

Above: Tempiellen Knuteson, as Ophelia, discussing her relationship with Hamlet with her father Polonius, played by Susan M. Gaertner.

Above: In an early scene, Hamlet, played by Pete Lindblom, listens as a spirit who identifies himself as Hamlet's father tells Hamlet that he was slain by Claudius by pouring poison in his ear.

Claudius (left), king of Denmark, played by Nan Macy, and his wife, Gertrude, queen of Denmark, played by Denise Rohn, are amused as Polonius (below), played by Susan M. Gaertner, recites a litany of tedious maxims.

Above: Lindblom in the early stages of Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to me" soliloquy, with Ophelia within earshot on the other side of the stage. Moments later, Hamlet would thrice admonish Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery."

Above and below: Maureen O'Leary, another of the cast's teenagers, in two scenes. Above, she participates in one of the lighter scenes with female-role-playing Greg Frisby, who seems to be perplexed by his exaggerated wardrobe dysfunction. Below, she plays the victim of an ear-poisoning in a scene re-enacting Hamlet's father's death as alleged by the ghost. Hamlet deliberately included the scene in a play, "The Murder of Gonzago," performed by a visiting troupe for the king and his court so Hamlet could observe Claudius' reaction. Claudius stormed out of the performance after the scene below, confirming to Hamlet that the ghost was correct.

Above: Nan Macy, as Claudius, during the third-act "Oh, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven" soliloquy. 

Above: Hamlet hears a cry of help come from someone hiding behind a drape in his mother's chamber. Thinking the eavesdropper is Claudius, his mother's husband and the man he believes killed his father, Hamlet stabs into the drape blindly. Moments later, he would learn that the eavesdropper he killed was not Claudius, but Polonius, the father of his love interest, Ophelia. 

Above and below: Tempiellen Knuteson, as Ophelia, in two frames from her erratic reaction to learning of her father's death, a stream about flowers (above) and a brief dance with a large white piece of fabric (below). Not long after, the queen would announce that Ophelia had been found, mysteriously drowned in a brook.

Above: The final scene duel between Laertes (left), played by Brad Elliott, and Hamlet, with Horatio (background, left) Claudius, Gertrude and other court staff observing.

Above: Denise Rohn as Gertrude, slumping to the floor as the poison kicks in from the drink she had consumed to toast her son Hamlet's first "hit" in the duel. She did not know her husband had tampered with the drink or had intended it to be consumed by Hamlet.

Above: Emboldened by the confession of Laertes (below), Hamlet -- who already had pierced Claudius with the poisoned-tip sword -- returns to double-ensure the king's demise by forcing the king to swallow a drink of the poisoned drink the king had intended for Hamlet ... and which Claudius' wife, Gertrude, had drunk from moments earlier.

Above: Mortally wounded Hamlet listens as Laertes, also dying from being pierced by the same poisoned-tip sword as Hamlet, make amends with Hamlet and reveals to Hamlet that Claudius had put him up to conspiring to kill Hamlet in the duel.

Above: After wresting the poisoned drink from his good friend Horatio, the mortally wounded Hamlet consoles his friend, who moments later, when Hamlet expired, would close the lids of his friend's eyes.

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