Hamlet fights a Noisy Schenley Plaza in Oakland
By Bob Hoover
One of last year’s most highly praised books was “Hamnet” by the British novelist Maggie O’Farrell. Hamnet was one of the twins of Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway, also called Agnes. Hamnet is also another form of Hamlet.
O’Farrell’s novel barely mentions the playwright, focusing instead on Agnes, who must deal mostly alone with the death of her son at 11 in 1596. His sister Judith outlived him. The book imagines Shakespeare’s world through the eyes of his wife, an original version of a largely male culture. It suggests that Hamnet’s death inspired “Hamlet.”
Now arrives an all-woman Tragedy of Hamlet presented by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in The Parks. This peripatetic theater company moves around the county park system. This year it stops at Frick, Highland, and North parks and adds three shows at Oakland’s Schenley Plaza, where I watched it on Sept. 10.
(Remember that the original “Hamlet” had an all-male cast.)
I did a lot of watching and less listening. The plaza is close to Forbes Avenue between the Hillman and Carnegie libraries and attracts a lot of people. Behind me was a large group of guys hanging out loudly as hospital helicopters buzzed overhead and traffic rumbled along Forbes, including a police cruiser with its siren piercing the air. Ping-pong players darted behind the actors.
When the actors faced away from the small audience, they couldn’t be heard. They are a tough troupe of nine, though, and carried on, fiercely at times, to insist that the play’s the thing.
Making her directing debut with PSiP, KJ Kilmer, a lecturer in the University of Pittsburgh’s Theater Arts Department, split the roles of Hamlet and Ophelia between Angela Hsu and Melissa Franklin.
Hsu was the more melancholy of the Danes while Franklin played the prince with resolve. The switch comes shortly before Ophelia’s descent into madness and the killing of her father, Polonius, played by Joanna Getting as the usual hectoring meddler.
Zanny Laird as Claudius and the ghost was a commanding (and the loudest) performer capturing the murderous usurper’s swagger and guilt. As the revengeful Laertes, Harper York was a menacing figure bringing the threat of violence to the story while Jenny Hoppes played the loyal Horatio.
Kilmer cut the play to two hours but added several strange interludes called hockets, using the whole cast chanting indistinctly that slowed the play’s flow. (A hocket is a musical technique using two or more voices in succession.) Tome Cousins created those interludes and joined Tonya Lynn in the choreography.
Rounding out the cast were Ella Mizera, Rachelmae Pulliam, and Irene Alby in multiple roles.
I believe I missed imaginative moments in this Hamlet because of Schenley Plaza’s distractions. The other venues should bring those moments forward.
The Tragedy of Hamlet | By William Shakespeare | Presented by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in The Parks | Weekends through Sept. 26 at four locations. | For more information, dates, locations and performance times visit www.pittsburghshakespeare.com