College students often find themselves at a crossroads. Whether it’s choosing a major, pursuing a career, picking a graduate school, or just figuring out what you’re doing over the summer, young adulthood comes with some tough decisions.
And for everyone’s favorite Shakespearean prince, tough decisions result in literal inner conflict in the Undergraduate Theater Society’s (UTS) newest production of “Hamlet.”
Hamlet (Peter Sakowicz), prince of Denmark, remains in mourning two months after his mother’s death. Though his father, Gertrude (Chris Mowers), encourages him to celebrate his marriage to his aunt Claudius (Gabi Boettner), Hamlet refuses to stop wearing black clothes and feels that his life no longer has value.
One night, Hamlet and his friends see the ghost of his deceased mother. She reveals that Claudius killed her, and instructs Hamlet to seek revenge against the woman who took over her throne and married her husband.
When Hamlet accepts this task, he literally splits in two, with Byron Walker playing the murderous, vengeful side of Hamlet. Sakowicz and Walker share Hamlet’s lines for the rest of the play, highlighting Hamlet’s inability to make decisions and act upon them.
The use of two Hamlets is extremely effective. Hamlet’s oscillation between action and inaction is highlighted in his soliloquies, with Sakowicz and Walker arguing with each other and, at times, dealing blows. In one scene, Sakowicz holds a book in front of his face to block Walker out of his view, symbolizing the moral beliefs that stop Hamlet from killing Claudius during most of the play.
The two Hamlets work surprisingly well outside of the soliloquies, thanks to the thoughtful division of the lines. Two notable examples are his confrontations with Ophelia (McKenna Donahue) and Gertrude. While Walker uses verbal and physical violence to provoke the reactions he wants from the other characters, Sakowicz seeks to console them, as if apologizing for the actions of his other half.
Eventually, Walker’s Hamlet is left to fight Ophelia’s sister Laertes (Lindsey Crocker) in the final duel, signifying his complete descent into madness and loss of restraint.
All of the show’s actors portray their characters well. Sakowicz depicts Hamlet’s familial devotion and keeps the audience on Hamlet’s side, while Walker’s anger and aggression are intimidating. Donahue and Crocker portray a loving sisterhood between Ophelia and Laertes. Mowers depicts Gertrude’s guilt and anxiety well throughout the play. Boettner is a powerful Queen Claudius, and the scene in which she prays for forgiveness is especially well done.
Making Laertes female worked well and strengthened her relationship with Ophelia. But, in my opinion, switching the genders of Claudius and Gertrude didn’t provide much of a new take on the characters. Since Gertrude remains rather feminine and Claudius rather masculine, their relationships with each other and with Hamlet remain the same.
The show’s visual elements are well suited to the play. The military-inspired costumes, mostly gray and black with touches of color, work well for both male and female characters. The set is minimal; gray and red banners get torn down as the play progresses, leaving only dark, blank walls for the final scene.
In the director’s note, Megan Brewer writes that Hamlet’s questions of identity are relevant for all people during times of transition. As another school year comes to an end, seniors graduate, and we as students seek to define our places in society, this production of “Hamlet” provides an innovative look at inner conflict and its resolution.
“Hamlet’s incessant search for self isn’t that far from our own personal realities,” Brewer writes. “In the end, the question is not about being or not being. It is about how.”
“Hamlet” runs from May 26 through June 5 at the Cabaret Theater in Hutchinson Hall. Tickets are $5 for UW students and $10 for general admission.
The verdict: The UTS’s production of “Hamlet” cleverly presents the character’s inner conflict and its damaging effects on himself and the people around him.
Reach Special Sections Editor Katie Anastas at email@example.com. Twitter: @KatieAnastas