Ghosts, sword fights, spies, poisoned cups, madness and an evil king will bring intrigue and drama to audiences in the Hood River Valley High School production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” running weekends March 1 through March 16.
And here begins the intrigue.
Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, is distraught at the recent death of his father, king Hamlet. Claudius, old king Hamlet’s brother, has taken the throne and has married his wife Gertrude, prince Hamlet’s mother.
“There is, of course, the personal struggle of Hamlet, who must choose his destiny despite the heavy-handed control of the adults in his life,” said Rachel Harry, director and HRV drama teacher, when summarizing the message in the play. “There are also the struggles for power and autonomy of all the characters, and the chess game played by the elders using the youths as pawns.”
The play also has much to say about evil and the varied ways in which we humans confront it — or, more often, fail to.
During an eerie encounter with the ghost of his dead father, Hamlet learns that his father was poisoned by his uncle Claudius. The ghost commands prince Hamlet to avenge his death. Hamlet agrees, but spends much of the play uncertain of whether to trust the ghost’s words and seeks to obtain proof of his uncle Claudius’ guilt.
To test Claudius’ conscience, prince Hamlet stages a play about a man who poisons the king to steal the throne and the king’s wife for himself. Hamlet sees that Claudius is suddenly stricken with guilt upon seeing the play, realizes the ghost was right and vows to have revenge. But that vow takes its toll and the contemplative Hamlet begins to lose his mind.
“I feel Shakespeare is pointing out that we know what is going on. We can recognize deception. We know when we are being lied to, yet we pretend we don’t,” said Harry. “Horrible things are taking place, but we tell ourselves, ‘No, this isn’t really happening.’ Hamlet goes mad knowing that evil is taking place, yet others look the other way, so he feels perhaps he is mistaken.”
The play also accurately portrays how evil spreads like a disease beyond the original source.
In Hamlet’s torment, he breaks the heart of young Ophelia, is challenged to a sword fight by her vengeful sibling Laertes and is stalked by spies of Claudius. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude becomes an unknowing victim of Claudius’ plots against Hamlet and virtually every lead character must confront death.
In the play’s tragic ending Shakespeare challenges the audience to face and contemplate the similarities of justice and revenge, and the source of those impulses in our shared human nature.
“The biggest hurdle for the students is the physicality of the time period,” said Harry. “These people were larger than life; they stood erect and commanded their space. Men wore swords and faced life-and-death issues on a daily basis. We are pretty domesticated now, and to comprehend and portray this is a challenge.
“The type of acting required for this type of play is different from the modern style,” she said. “The movement, affect and vocal style; are all very specific. Students in the program explore classical acting style in second year and it is a great opportunity for them to actually use these methods in a play.”
Seniors in lead roles include Duncan Krummel as Hamlet, Murphy Jackson as Claudius, Sofia Marbach as Gertrude, Maddy McLean as Laertes and Tanis Gonzaga as Polonius. Ophelia is played by sophomore Delaney Barbour.
Additional roles and players are: Marcos Galvez as Horatio, Harlan Daniels as Fortinbras, August Beard as Rosencrantz and Sophie Finstad as Guildenstern. Additional actors include Hunter Peterson, Keenan Collins, Graham Sholar, Isabella Correa, Noelani Euwer, Lauren Gray, Ben Dane, Luis Santillan, Jade James, Cayla Sacre, Matt Oldfield, Rebecca Wolfe and Olivia Newcomb.
To mount a Shakespearean play takes a significant amount of technical support. Student MacKenzie Schmidt is coordinating behind-the-scenes as stage manager. Dozens of additional students assist with lights, sound and props including: Tay Camille Lynne, Edith Sanchez, Justin Danner, Eric Hamada, Jacob Mears, Stephanie Olson, Gabriella Whitehead, Josh Breedlove and Cory Cimock.
“We’re trying to pull off a monumental undertaking with just a handful of amazing parents and adults,” said Harry. “Without Jeff Lorenzen (sets), Dan Baxter (throne), Kathy Peldyak, Sarah Delano, Lynn Schuepbach, and Elise Tickner (costumes), I really could not have done this.
“There are a number of other wonderful parents sewing and contributing to the production in a great way, but those lead people have gone above and beyond,” Harry added. “The interesting thing to note is that none of them have a child in the production.”
While audiences will have this unique opportunity to see Shakespeare’s work performed, it won’t be an all-afternoon event.
“Traditionally the plays of Shakespeare are often cut down to accommodate the modern time frame, and this is the case with our Hamlet,” added Harry. “The play, normally a five-act, four-hour play, will run around two hours.”