‘Hamlet: Believe None of Us’ at Off the Quill

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Blending a mix of performance mediums, including modern dance, contemporary music and stage combat, Off the Quill (OTQ)’s Hamlet: Believe None of Us reconceives the original play by Shakespeare, underscoring its signature spin on the classic piece to create a more dynamic art form.

Michael J. Dombroski (Hamlet) and William Cassidy (Claudius). Photo by Robinson Photography.

Michael J. Dombroski (Hamlet) and William Cassidy (Claudius). Photo by Robinson Photography.

Launched in 2013, OTQ was founded by four friends, Patrick Mullen, Katie Wanschura, Leanne Dinverno and J. Peter Langsdorf, who wanted to create a unique kind of performance experience. Self-described as an experimental theater company, OTQ is dedicated to the art of storytelling whose purpose is to “entertain, evoke emotion, broaden the mind and communicate.” Recognizing that the majority of communication is non-verbal and non-language dependent, OTQ intertwines a wide spectrum of innovative art disciplines with traditional acting styles to produce an “accessible, entertaining and thought-provoking work of theater.”

In Hamlet: Believe None of Us, Artistic Director Patrick Mullen rejuvenates Shakespeare’s famous drama with a wide array of movements, like tumbling, gymnastics, clowning, ballet, jazz and ballroom dancing with traditional theatrical conventions to present a more progressive, unconventional interpretation.

“Movement is a way of communicating complex ideas and feelings without the cumbersome process of having to translate language,” explains Mullen. “We use movement when we want to cut right into the heart and soul of the audience, to talk to them without talking.”

In order to facilitate its heavy movement production, Mullen, who also serves as the fight choreographer and production designer, keeps a simple and sparse set design, displaying a hoisted throne, which consists of two sitting chairs with props, on an elevated stage platform. Since some scenes incorporate somewhat rough and tumble like prancing and leaping, the vast majority of the thrust stage is covered in what appears to be a faux wooden floor that could also feasibly double as a protective, pre-school style foam mat.

Under Patrick Mullen’ direction, Michael J. Dombroski consummately embraces his role as Hamlet, and his take on the indecisive and melancholy prince is intense and proactive. He broods, he investigates, he lashes out and he delivers the lines and swords with ease. Dombroski plays the prince of Denmark with all the emotional depth and angst needed to portray a young man whose life and views on love, loss and loyalty are being profoundly tested.  His challenges commence with the death of Hamlet’s father, the King of Denmark, and the ensuing, swift remarriage of his mother, Gertrude (Katie Wanschura), the Queen, to Hamlet’s father’s brother Claudius (William Cassidy), positioning Hamlet’s uncle as the new King. The ghost of the newly-dead king visits Hamlet, revealing that his death was a murder committed by his brother and, then, urging Hamlet to revenge his death by murdering Claudius. And, so begins Hamlet’s descent into madness and his eventual ascent to resolution.

On a quest to avenge his father’s murder, Hamlet wrestles with his own grief and anger, and he rages through the play trying to expose Claudius as the murder. His situation becomes complicated when he inadvertently kills Polonius (Donald R. Cook), Laertes (Joe Roberts), and Ophelia’s (Chelsie Lloyd) father, causing Ophelia to go into her psychosis, and Laertes on his quest for vengeance. Claudius seizes on this opportunity to kill Hamlet, but things do not end up going as planned.

One of the production’s most striking performances was Chelsie Lloyd as a complex and multi-faceted Ophelia who avoids melodrama while descending ever deeper into nervous hysteria, grief and madness through a medley of dances, beautifully choreographed movements, ranging from graceful leaps to thunderous tumbles.

Other supporting cast members build on the momentum of Hamlet’s revitalized characterization, adding more vibrancy and energy to the original storyline.  William Cassidy, as Claudius, is the villain, having killed Hamlet’s father to marry the queen and take over the kingdom. Yet, Cassidy bares a more vulnerable and human side to him, despite his unforgivable power-lust.  Likewise, Katie Wanschura, as Queen Gertrude, persuasively explores a fresh interpretation of a wife and mother who does not realize the full horror of her situation until it is too late to correct it. Wanschura displays a sense of grace and dignity to the character that helps her to stand out among the other cast members. Similarly, Cook creates a memorable and droll Polonius, making the character’s statements all the more ironic.

Chelsie Lloyd (Ophelia) waltzing Michael J. Dombroski (Hamlet).

Chelsie Lloyd (Ophelia) waltzing Michael J. Dombroski (Hamlet).

Giving the classic Hamlet another modern twist component, the costumes design maintains the essence of each of the characters, but represents them in a more timeless, modern style. For example, the castle guards, who are co-ed, wear fitted black blazers and skinny black denim or tight black pants with large, reflective aviator sunglasses (and, the female guards don low, sleek back ponytails).

In addition to the character’s wardrobe more progressive styling, the music selection compliments the production’s staging and innovative panache.  Instrumental versions of popular, present day songs of artists like Lady Gaga, Lorde, Kanye West and Adele were played, which accomplished Director Patrick Mullen’s objectives to accentuate a sense of pacing and urgency, setting the mood for the scene and creating a familiar context. “We wanted to create a verbal ballet as Shakespeare’s words danced in and with the music,” Mullen explains.

True to its unconventional style, offering a varied montage of movements and musical sounds, OTQ’s Hamlet: Believe None of Us tenders an off-beat, yet compelling, fresh-minted production, with many insights, nuances and twists, demonstrating that even centuries-old masterpieces may be revamped with individuality and flair.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Hamlet: Believe None of Us plays through October 12, 2014 at Greenbelt Arts Center—123 Centerway Greenbelt, MD 20770.  For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8770, or purchase them online.

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