Hamlet at Tulane’s Lupin Theater
Seven years ago, I ended my appraisal of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane’s (SFT) production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with the observation “Patrick Bowen, son of Danny [Bowen, the play’s director] and currently a high school student, was very good as Hamlet in his scenes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Might he be the SFT’s princely Dane next time Hamlet is done here?”
Well, maybe I can foresee the future as well as Macbeth’s witches as Patrick Bowen did indeed portray the Danish prince in the SFT’s recently concluded run of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.
(I had intended to review the show while it was still running, but “Hurricane” Barry caused its first weekend to be cancelled forcing this write-up to be postponed.)
Bowen gave a commendable performance. Wearing a black hoodie, hair askew, and slightly jowly, his Hamlet seemed almost too smart for his own good; as he pursued vengeance against his uncle/stepfather Claudius for killing his father and usurping the throne, he realizes what the consequences of his actions could be and so does nothing. That, however, does not prevent him from verbally wounding others (mother Gertrude, girlfriend Ophelia, etc.) who cross his path.
Yet if an unmistakable intelligence underlay Bowen’s approach, he captured only part of this most challenging role. One missed Hamlet’s self-dramatizing quality, and the anguished bravado that Dave Davis brought to the part in SFT’s 2012 presentation of Hamlet. While one doesn’t expect, or want, two Hamlets to be the same, Bowen’s needed something more to elevate it to what had the potential to be a great interpretation.
For this I hold Director Clare Moncrief responsible. As with so many other SFT productions, her Hamlet was never less than clear and understandable, no small feat, but never gripping or incisive. Her approach was more or less the same as that 2012 production which she also directed and, as was the case then, neither provided any sense of revelation nor offered any new insights into the work.
My colleague Theodore P. Mahne noted (on nola.com; good to have him back post-Times-Picayune) “the production may not plumb deeply the psychological layers of the tragedy” but was able to overlook that; I, however, missed the subtext, the careful shaping of these most glorious words as, with one notable exception, each actor in the cast found one note for his or her character and stuck with it throughout.
That one exception was the Ophelia of Aviyon Myles. Unlike her castmates, she radiated a true noble bearing and an innate dignity so that you believed she was of highborn blood. Her “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” speech was not mere observation, but a wounded cry of the heart, each phrase divulging another layer of her delicate soul.
Unlike most other Ophelia’s I’ve seen, Myles, a NOCCA grad, lay the seeds for her later descent into madness beginning in the “Nunnery Scene” with Hamlet so her mind’s dissolution did not seem to appear later by mere authorial fiat. With her elegant appeal, I can easily imagine Myles someday portraying Michele Obama during her years in the White House. Or, right now (casting directors take note), as the former First Lady was as a college or law school student.
In addition to Myles’ fine work, Sam Malone endowed Polonius with more depth than this king’s counselor usually gets. Clearly caring for his children, Ophelia and Laertes (Sheldon Mba), Malone furnished Polonius’ character-defining pompousness without overdoing it.
Graham Burk was effective as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, lit by a spectral green light. James Bartelle properly made Horatio a steadfast friend to Hamlet; their scenes together succeeded as they’re the most straightforward of the play and so don’t suffer from a lack of subtext.
Moncrief’s sole directorial invention was casting two women as Rosencrantz (Emily Russell) and Guildenstern (Drew Pearson), Hamlet’s pals. This gambit worked exceedingly well, giving these two characters a newfound level of intimacy with the prince; had he dated one–or both–back in college? It seemed possible. One wishes Moncrief had taken more such risks.
On the other hand, the only truly out of place element were the Players who come to Elsinore Castle. They acted in the broad style one associates with 19th century traveling troupes. That might have been fine if Erin Routh’s costume scheme matched that period, but with a cast dressed in contemporary outfits, Moncrief bungled an opportunity to send up Method acting or performance art or, well, anything rather than the tried’n’true. Tirol Palmer, as the Player Queen, at least reined it in somewhat to make for a more believable thespian.
And so the Shakespeare Festival’s revels now are ended for its 26th season. Let’s hope next year its players will not only speak the Bard’s lines trippingly, but better hold the mirror up to nature.
The Mighty Lincoln Company, a new theatre company based in Algiers Point, presents Turn It into Smoke by RF Keefe at Mount Olivet Episcopal Church (530 Pelican Ave.). In it, Melinda and Craig, a young couple expecting a baby, are prepared for a relaxing night after crib shopping and Lamaze classes. They settle in for the night with their friends, seasoned parents Gary and Lena, who have a very special favor to ask them. All is normal as pie…until the nuns arrive.
Mark Routhier directs a cast featuring John Neisler, Wendy Neisler, Kristin Shoffner, Garrett Prejean, Mary Pauley, Kathryn Miesse, and Ron Gural. Performances run thru August 3 and include a slice of lasagna that’s cooked during the show!
We’ve all felt the blues, and artists like Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Irma Thomas, Ma Rainey and Big Mama Thornton among others, have expressed these feelings in their music. 100 Years of Women in Blues, created by and starring Dorian Rush, travels from 1919 to 2019 offering a journey of life, love, heartache and loss.
100 Years of Women in Blues runs August 9-25, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees at JPAS’ Teatro Wego, 177 Sala Avenue, in Westwego.