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Review: ‘Hamlet’ at Port City Playhouse

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An actor of illustrious talent shone bright recently on the D.C. area stage of Port City Playhouse. Rebekah Raze, in a performance that progressed from great to astounding, not only enthralled her audience to the point of a standing ovation, but brought a liveliness to the role of Hamlet not commonly seen. The foundation that gave birth to Raze’s performance – all the more remarkable since she had been stage-absent for eight years – was the brilliant adaptation of Hamlet by Director Juli Tarabek Blacker, which transformed King Claudius into Queen Claudia; Queen Gertrude into King Gerhardt; Laertes into Laerta; Ophelia into Ophelius; Horatio into Horatia; and Polonius into Polonia.

Blacker’s sex-change directives refreshed this 400-year-plus-old play in myriad ways. One of the most prominent was the costume design scheme of Farrell Ann M. Hartigan, which was all black leather jackets and pants for most of the male-turned-female characters and more drab and standard attire for the men of the play.

Another nuance that Blacker’s direction conjured was the feminine energy and depth of feeling that the female members of the cast brought to their characters. The sex-role switching in this play (which included Hamlet’s exhortation to “Get thee to a nunnery!” becoming “Get thee to a monastery!”) was no mere gimmick, but rather an open door to countless interpretations and subtext.

Among many memorable performances, Brendan Quinn gave his skull-tossing, bearded gravedigger/clown a jovial personality. I loved Quinn singing as he dug a grave. Quinn has tackled Shakespeare before, having played Malcolm in the Scottish Play.

Lesley McKnight excelled in two roles: the usurper Queen Claudia and Hamlet’s Ghost. Her scene of near repentance as Queen Claudia was full of angst and regret. Her portrayal of Hamlet’s Ghost demonstrated the adage “less is more.”

Timothy Caron was interesting to watch as Ophelius, Hamlet’s love interest. As Ophelius edged closer to madness, his mannerisms – including his brandishing flowers – began to resemble those of the traditional female Ophelia. One of his previous shows ironically was I Hate Hamlet.

A production of Hamlet must have a good Polonius – in this case Polonia. Jessie Roberts matched and exceeded all the notes of this role including her infamous words of advice to her daughter Laerta. Roberts has directed for companies such as the Vienna Theatre Company and St. Mark’s Players.

I loved Brianna Goode as Horatia, Timothy R. King as Gerhardt, and Raeanna Nicole Larson as Laerta. They were all able to do a lot with facial expressions and subtext. Also in this category were Emma Safford as Rozencrantz and Hilary Adams as Guildenstern. Rachael Dickson and Griffin Voltmann were solid in their ensemble roles.

What a spectacular sword fight Stephan Sitig choreographed. The fight included nifty acrobatics by Raze especially. David Correia’s set design was minimal, but I loved his set painting, which included a royal herald. The lighting, run opening night by Dwayne Allen, was well done, especially the grave-digging scene. Hamlet is spellbinding stage craft and a jewel for theatergoers.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Hamlet plays through October 30, 2017, at Port City Playhouse at Sleepy Hollow United Methodist Church – 3435 Sleepy Hollow Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, email the box office or purchase them online.

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