Madness is unleashed among the stoic marble and stone memorial markers of iconic Laurel Hill Cemetery as REV Theatre Company, directed by Rosey Hay, lends life force to the language of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Mad with grief over the his father the King’s untimely death, and enraged by his mother’s quickie marriage to his father’s brother, Hamlet’s (Rudy Caporaso) surfeit feelings form a torrent of turmoil that leaches into the lives of those around him “…as the sea and wind when both contend which is the mightier.” Haunted by loss, young Hamlet confers with his dear departed father’s apparition, afterwards adding method to his madness in pursuit of royal revenge. His keen purpose needs detachment from other affairs, including fair Ophelia (Abigail Garber).
Still stung from his mother’s plunge from his father’s grave into his Uncle Claudius’s (Brian McManus) bed, and suspicious of womankind, Hamlet both denies and protects Ophelia in divorcing his feelings. Ophelia, torn by her love for him and remaining aloof according to the dictates of her father, whom she also loses to death, becomes permanently unhitched, drowning in sorrow. But though the play’s ravages of retribution ricochet around the shrines, slabs and tombstones engulfing the audience, so do some marvelous moments of levity, poignantly framed by those stark reminders.
Hamlet is a bit of a smartass, and Caporaso gives the wit some bite. For instance: While McManus, masterfully channeling Claudius, chides him over his excessive grieving, basically telling him to ‘suck it up’ (“But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son—”), Caporaso hovers over the coffin, fresh tears in his eyes, deftly delivering the Prince of Denmark’s barb “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”
REV Theatre Company’s fabulously physical performers do justice to the intensity instilled in the text. During the scene where Hamlet issues the “get thee to a nunnery” demand to Ophelia, the audience is witness to him taunting and terrifying her, pinning her to the ground, tearing the fabric of her dress. Garber entreats, then retreats from within and without visibly.
Hillary Spector shines in her supreme role as the duplicitous wife and mother Gertrude, going from one extreme to the other fluidly. Mark Knight imbues Polonius with presence, pomposity and great regret, while Bob McMahon follows suit in a younger and fierier fashion as his son and Ophelia’s brother, Laertes. Faithful friend Horatio is portrayed with sincerity and strength of character by Tyler Houchins. Brandon Shockey and Eren Taylor team up terrifically, like two birds of a feather, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Assistant Director Susanna Herrick and Assistant Stage Manager Fiona Chin are fun to watch as the Player Queen and Lucianus in The Mousetrap, the play-within-a-play that is used to goad Claudius. Bob Weick rocks the ghost with his booming, ethereal voice as he steps through the mist towards the audience, a lighted crystal chandelier swinging from the boughs behind him. Weick does triple duty: he also portrays the First Player in The Mousetrap, as well as adding a touch of humor to the glib, gabby gravedigger at the end of the show.
REV Theatre Company’s Hamlet at Laurel Hill Cemetery fits its setting perfectly. Actors waft in and out among the pillars and tombs. Votives flicker atop tombstones; the lighting, designed by Abby Schlackman, by turn alters, colors and augments the eerie atmosphere. Fight scenes, captained by Bob McMahon, seethes with foment. Costumes (uncredited) collide and combine in era, color, fabric and attitude. Larry Barnes’ sound design enhances this unique experience.
To go or not to go? GO! Get thee to the cemetery!!
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15 minute intermission.
Hamlet plays through July 15, 2017, at the Laurel Hill Cemetery – 3822 Ridge Avenue, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 228-8200, or purchase them online. Further performances are July 19 through 29, 2017 at the Physick Estate – 1048 Washington Street, in Cape May, NJ. For tickets to the Physick Estate performances, call (609) 884-5404, or purchase them online.