By Leonel Henriquez
When audience members walked into Lehman’s Studio Theatre on March 17 to see a raised platform stage on steel girders, they could immediately sense that this would not be an ordinary presentation of Hamlet.
“The stage was made to look like a boxing ring, leveled up, with the ring side seats,” said senior Ibrahim Traore, who was recast as Laertes just two days before the first show.
Overall, the production was a fresh, innovative success, with director Rick DesRochers brilliantly adapting Shakespeare’s Elizabethan work. DesRochers presents it in a post-colonial creole setting reminiscent of Haiti after the French revolution, with characters wearing knickers and corsets. He modernizes the staging, however, with the use of projection screens which show flashbacks of the king’s death and pictures of his ghost which startle the audience.
The performance is pushed along by a score of classic rock music and ritualistic voodoo dance routines choreographed by Amy Larimer. DesRochers also broke with traditional casting, as male characters were played by women, with Nadja Gonzalez as Rosencrantz and Giselley Munoz as Horatio.
One of the best things about the staging of this production was the proximity and interaction of the performers with the audience. Performers would appear in the balcony, climb down to the orchestra and walk up into the gallery. At times the actors placed their hands on people’s shoulders and even took hold of someone’s hand and talked directly to them, bringing the experience to life as opposed to just viewing a performance. At one point, Robert Torigoe as King Claudius places a hand on an audience member’s shoulder and talks to them as if they were a member of the king’s court as the scene plays out.
Bereket Mengitsu was outstanding in the role of Hamlet. Beyond the prince’s controlled ramblings and bewildered looks, the physical interaction between him and the other characters was masterful. Mengitsu rolls around on the ground with Polonius (Hermanuel Darnis), and climbs on and humps the throne that his mother, Queen Gertrude (Jacqueline Rosa), is sitting on as he confronts her for marrying his uncle so shortly after his father’s death.
“I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare” said audience member Anna Rodriguez, “but this was fun.”
“I’m so proud of everyone associated with this play. They all worked so hard,” said DesRochers. Tearing up he added, “I couldn’t be prouder.”