Comment: HAMLET-911

by Lynn on October 9, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Procrastination is a terrible thing. I waited so long to ‘comment’ on this challenging play, that it closed Oct. 2. I am chastened. I hope.

But the play deserves comment because I hope it will have another life after tightening.

Written by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Based on an idea by Alisa Palmer, Vita Brevis Arts

Directed by Alisa Palmer

Set by Jung-Hye Kim

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Composed and sound by Chris Ross-Ewart

Projections by HAUI

Cast: Jacklyn Francis

Andrew Iles

Mike Shara

Eva Foote

Micah Woods

Amelia Sargisson

Wahsonti:io Kirby

Gordon Patrick White

Sarah Dodd

Scott Wentworth

And others…

In Hamlet-911 Ann-Marie MacDonald creates characters, all of whom need emergency attention—911 in other words. Guinness Menzies (Mike Shara) is a television star on a vampire series and he is playing Hamlet at a place that looks a lot like the Stratford Festival. His father Rex Menzies (Scott Wentworth) is an illustrious actor at that very place and had played Hamlet before. (I love the impish cheek of Ann-Marie MacDonald to name this towering actor, Rex—Latin for ‘King’.) Guinness had a lot to live up to. Guinness is married to a young wife, Sue (Amelia Sargisson). She thinks Guinness might be having an affair with Jenna (Eva Foote), who is playing Ophelia in Hamlet. When the production needs a Gertrude, they ask Guinness’ mother, Jessica (Sarah Dodd) to play her. She says she’s too old (!) and they ask Sue to play her (!). Added to this is a fragile minded teen named Jeremy (Andrew Iles), who is coming to see the matinee of the show and wants to ask Guinness some questions about the character and play. Guinness doesn’t do talk-backs. Jeremy waits for an answer to an e-mail to Guinness and that is not forthcoming. Jeremy is so alone, his parents are hectoring and he contemplates suicide.

There is a lot to unpack in this play, perhaps too much. I love the uncertainty of Guinness in whether he can play such a huge part. He has the weight of being a television actor in what seems like a light-weight show. He has to keep assuring his wife he is being true. He has to keep proving himself to his father Rex. In a blistering speech Rex lambasts everything from diverse casting to gender fluidity to the changing world of pronouns and how to address people properly and with respect, to the world of acting. Scott Wentworth delivered that speech with such gusto and confidence one hesitated to smirk at his blinkeredness in the world. Lots to ponder.

In Jeremy, the fragile teen,  MacDonald has created a Hamlet character—thoughtful, unsteady, solitary and thinking about his own mortality. In a fascinating bit of analysis Jeremy thinks on Gertrude’s speech describing where Ophelia was found and how she drowned. Jeremy interprets that speech as Gertrude witnessing Ophelia’s suicide. He asks why she didn’t help her. Fascinating interpretation, rather than Gertrude merely repeating what she was told by someone else. Jeremy seems to wonder why Ophelia would do it, not noting it seems that her beloved brother was not there for solace; her father used her to spy on her boyfriend; her boyfriend dumped her; and finally, her father was killed. That would certainly weigh heavily on a person. As always, Ann-Marie MacDonald gives one a lot to think about.

I think the play needs another go-round to cut, tighten and focus on the stories that drive the play, rather than offer interesting stops along the way. The acting was terrific, as was Alisa Palmer’s direction.

Sorry I waited so long to post.  

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