There’s nothing overtly hip-hop about director Joel Sass’ streamlined adaptation of “Hamlet” that opened Friday at Park Square Theatre. The actors don’t rap their lines as they do in “Hamilton.” They don’t break out into dances such as the nae nae, like the cast of the Guthrie’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Yet this update of the Shakespeare classic, which jarringly arms its characters with assault rifles at the outset, seemingly owes a debt to the musical genre.
What Sass has given us is a remix of the Bard. He has collapsed speeches and reassigned lines. He has cut characters and story lines. Gone are the subplots around Norwegian prince Fortinbras and Hamlet’s spying friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This is “Hamlet” as European political potboiler, a Shakespearean “House of Cards.”
The task of carrying this load falls on a nine-member cast led by Kory LaQuess Pullam, a young, athletic and smart actor who acquits himself well, and Maeve Coleen Moynihan as emotive, compelling Ophelia.
Pullam’s Hamlet is a lonely figure who is not just playing at madness in order to avenge the death of his father. In his rants and raves, Pullam embodies Hamlet’s cracked psyche and overweening grief. The actor also brings a lot of charisma to the role, with sharp physical humor to leaven Hamlet’s depression and melancholy, although sometimes his passion overwhelms his diction.
Moynihan, who takes Ophelia from the stirrings of love to wrenching sadness, wears her emotions on the outside, whether it’s palpable excitement or zombielike numbness.
Charles Hubbell is curt and businesslike as Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, who killed the prince’s father and married his mother, Gertrude (played by Sandra Struthers as a pleasant doyenne). There are nice moments also by Wesley Mouri as Ophelia’s brother Laertes and Kathryn Fumie as Hamlet’s friend Horatio.
Horatio is one of a number of roles that have been recast, gender-wise, in Sass’ inclusive vision. Ophelia’s father, Polonius, is now Polonia (Tinne Rosenmeier) while the versatile Imani Vaughn-Jones plays a soldier and the courtier Osric. The rewrites enrich the landscape at Elsinore while adding dimension and subtext to the action.
The Sass-designed set is dominated by a big concrete box that’s been tipped on its side. It’s a metaphor for a world atilt, with chameleonic lighting by Michael Kittel that reflects the mood of the players. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, the set turns “Poltergeist” green. Scenes featuring Gertrude and Claudius veer between purple and red. Hamlet also has many moods, from neutral white to red fury.
These design elements add texture to scenes where corrupt power fouls the air, and makes us feel that, indeed, something truly is rotten in this Denmark.
612-673-4390 Twitter: @rohanpreston