HAMLET (Quintessence): Brevity is the soul of it

There is nothing good or bad that thinking makes it so.

Quintessence Theatre Hamlet review

Quintessence Theatre’s HAMLET with Josh Carpenter and John Preston. Photo by Shawn May.

Hip, fast-paced, with a frat-boy-cool lead: these aren’t usually phrases to describe HAMLET. But Quintessence Theatre Group’s heavily edited version takes a bare bodkin to Shakespeare’s story of revenge and existential crisis in the state of Denmark. Whole sections are stripped, what remains is reordered liberally and interspersed with staccato sound effects to create a fully contemporary take on the classic text. And though the edits decontextualize some of the language (“To be or not to be”… wait, why is Hamlet contemplating suicide?), director Alexander Burns has crafted an accessible and enjoyable production, with solid performance, elegant staging, and a tangible love for the remaining text.

More than perhaps any other work, HAMLET depends on its lead: cut it up, set it anywhere, introduce any gimmicks you like: with a strong actor playing the Dane, the power and insight of the language will carry the production. John Carpenter nails it, delivering the incisive lines with strength and understanding and capturing Hamlet as a recognizable older student whose madness results from his circumstances.

He is supported by a strong ensemble. Matt Lorenz’s Horatio is well realized despite diminished stage time; Ralph Edmonds plays down the evil of the murderous Claudius for a more rounded and effective villain. Rachael Brodeur has a series of strong scenes as Ophelia, but she and Burns fail to find a thread uniting the character through these appearances.

The en face staging is inventive, with quick, effective scene changes, although some key scenes are played in half-view of the raised audience. But if some of Burns’ decisions don’t quite work, a mostly working version of HAMLET beats a fully functioning version of almost anything else. October 9–November 23, 2013, quintessencetheatre.org.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.