nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 21, 2010
Hamlettes, a new play by Patrick Shaw, is a tale of adolescent angst using Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet as fodder for a contemporary tragedy, employing a clever marriage of Elizabethan poetry and modern tween-speak. Shaw's ingenious device begins with three girls interested in the Bard's work, particularly Hamlet. As they become more intricately involved with each other emotionally, their dialogue includes more snippets of Hamlet, until in the end their conversation is a natural and seamless amalgamation of their own made-up verse, Shakespeare's text, and girlish syntax. The play is not overtly contrived, however, as the action justifies this language transformation.
The plot involves two 12-year-olds at a girls' school who discover a mutual interest in the works of William Shakespeare. Alex (Alexandra Bassett) read all the plays after her mother gave her a Complete Works for her birthday – she thinks Hamlet is "the best thing ever made." Chloe (Savannah Clement) attended theatre camp where she worked on Shakespearean monologues with a teacher who said she had real potential. Alex has a visceral feeling for the Bard; Chloe's affinity is more cerebral. They decide to form a theatre club and their first production will be Hamlet, with Alex taking the lead and Chloe playing all the other roles. After a few rehearsals they decide they need someone to play Ophelia—Chloe just can't relate to what she sees as Ophelia's weak female mentality and Alex just doesn't think Chloe is pretty enough. So, into the club they enlist the school's newest student, a pretty and slightly strange girl who just happens to be named Ophelia (Lauren Weinberg). As the three progress in rehearsal, a romantic triangle develops, fueled by their role-playing and fired by incipient pubescent womanhood.
Shaw succeeds mightily in rendering his young characters in believable situations. For me, though, I think he falls a little dramaturgically—the play is just a little too predictable, without any real surprises or dramatic reversals to keep us on our toes. He might take a cue from his source—Hamlet, after all, has any number of plot twists that keep us wondering what is going to happen next. Of course, his point may be that 12-year-olds are fairly single-minded, focusing on one thing with the blinders of their passions. At any rate, this is a post viewing quibble.
Director Lillian Meredith is a young director to watch. She does a good job of staging the play and uses some wonderful imagery. Plus, she has drawn excellent performances from all three actors—Bassett is dangerously riveting, Clement is honestly believable, and Weinberg is touchingly emotional. Tom Meredith's set, Brian Henderson's lights, and Laura Wiese's costumes work well together and add nice touches to the production.
I was drawn immediately into the world of this play and I was emotionally moved by it. Hamlettes is definitely worth seeing—whether you are a tween, teen, or an adult. What happens when adolescent emotions lack mature models to ameliorate outcomes will keep you brooding about this play long after you leave the theatre.