Out & About – Shakespeare in High Park

Last week, Christina and I ventured to High Park to see Hamlet, presented by the Canadian Stage and directed by Birgit Schreyer Duarte. After a wonderful dinner at the tree house (a.k.a. Christina’s place), we walked over to the park and joined the crowd of people ready to see one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies. After finding good seats, we settled in for the long haul, with the play running approximately an hour and forty-five minutes and with no intermission (an endurance test, to say the least).

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The set was minimalist and lent an air of modernity that was peppered throughout the entire production, from the costumes to many of the directorial touches (did Ophelia really need to get “naked”?). The play was a condensed adaptation that stuck, for the most part, to the original but for this viewer there was something that was lacking.

But I don’t want to be entirely negative. The actor playing Hamlet, Frank Cox-O’Connell (below), did a wonderful job portraying the complexities of the role. While traditionalists may have been turned off by the more contemporary touches of this pot smoking, grieving-turned-slightly mad Danish Prince, I enjoyed Cox-O’Connell’s take on the role. His acting was a convincing mix of a roguish youth mourning the loss of his father, a confused and angered son, dealing with his mother’s quick marriage to his uncle, and a conflicted young man wanting to revenge the death of his father but navigating the ethical and moral terms of this plea of violence from the ghost of his father.

Hamlet’s relationship to Ophelia, in this version, was slightly uneven and confused. Playing opposite of Cox-O’Connell was Rose Tuong as Ophelia. I wanted to like Tuong in her role but no matter how hard I tried I thought she was the weak link in the production with her over the top performance and uneven approach to her role. I blame these two faults on the director who seems to have wanted to create a buzz through some of her choices with Ophelia. By this I mean the overt sexual gestures, for example Ophelia taking of her nickers, and when in her mad state, after the murder of her mother, she tears off her clothing (leaving Ophelia in nude undergarments, which was not at all shocking and left me wondering – WHY?). This last point was especially at odds when Gertrude speaks after Ophelia has committed suicide:

“. . . When downe the Weedy Trophies, and her selfe,
Fell in the weeping Brooke, her cloathes spred wide,
And Mermaid-like, a while they bore her up . . .”

(Hamlet, from the original act 4, scene 7)

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Other notable performances besides Cox-O’Connell’s were by Kaleb Alexander who plays Laertes and Nicky Guadagni who plays a gender reversed role as Polonius as mother, instead of father to Laertes and Ophelia.

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Every summer I look forward to Shakespeare in the park and, as you can tell, I was pretty disappointed with this production. I may have to go and see All’s Well that Ends Well to hopefully even out the experience.

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