Monday, July 20, 2015

Trippingly on the Tongue

I am but mad north-north-west.

What are the chances I'd see "Hamlet" the same day I saw the film that takes its name from a line in "Hamlet"? Apparently, pretty good.

It wasn't very difficult to find a willing date for dinner and outdoor theater, even if we did arrive at Agecroft just minutes before the sky opened up, full as ticks and willing to sit in the car and listen to music until the subsequent rainbow appeared and we felt cleared to make our way to the courtyard.

There, from our second row seats, a minstrel greeted us with song - "Welcome to Elsinore, leave your morals at the door" - as the post-rain weather enveloped us in cooler temperatures and lower humidity.

Don't tell Quill Theater I said it, but perhaps every production should begin with pouring rain to clear the air.

Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.

Despite it being my 17th year of attendance, my date was a first-timer to Shakespeare at Agecroft, agog at the 500-year old architecture and entranced with the notion of theater there. To prove to me his devotion to "Hamlet," though, he recited soliloquies learned long ago in his nerd days. You know I was impressed.

And not just with him, but with Molly Hood as Hamlet. Make no mistake, I was well aware of her stunning ability to play Shakespeare's men, having seen her in any number of local director BS Maupin's gender-reversed Shakespeare readings over the years (a long-time favorite series of mine...hey, BC, when's the next one?). The woman is a master with the Bard's language.

When I had seen this hot love on the wing.

Director Jan Powell had updated the play in other ways, with actors carrying cellphones and taking selfies, the seersucker suit-wearing Polonius pulling out his checkbook and Rozencrantz and Guildenstern (wearing Wittenburg baseball caps) dressed as preppies.

I have lost all my mirth.

My date took as much pleasure as I always do from the distinctive moments that are unique to an Agecrodt performance: the sound of a train rolling by, the lightening bugs and moths that join the actors onstage, the bats swooping overhead.

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

During intermission, I grabbed my companion and took him on a tour of the grounds, up to the terrace for a view of  the panorama, down to the gazebo where couples could be alone, to the picaresque herb garden and along every darkened path, all under a fingernail sliver of a moon.

When I pulled out a bar of dark chocolate with sea salt, he said, "You really are the best date ever." Roger that.

When you're working with a script the caliber of "Hamlet," a director can only hope for a cast worthy of it and Powell had chosen well.

Casting Hood had been a brilliant stroke because she can play heartbreaking and ball-breaking equally well, but just as impressive was her decision to refer to her as a "she," and a she who was in love with another she, Ophelia.

That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

For sheer watchability, Jeff Clevenger nailed both his roles as the eager but inept Polonius and the southern-accented grave digger singing "I Ain't Got Nobody" as he shovels skulls out of the ground, to great comedic success.

Thomas Cunningham, strong in every role I've ever seen him in, was Hamlet's bespectacled rock as Horatio and Foster Solomon commanded his scenes with his sheer physical presence and authoritative diction as the plotting Claudius.

You would pluck out the heart of my mystery.

No matter how many times I see the tragedy of Hamlet play out, I am struck by the sheer sadness of its scope - the evil, the corruption and deception, the overwhelming grief that finishes with so much death and loss.

"I teared up at the end," my date told me walking out. That's the most ringing endorsement I can imagine for his baptism by fire with the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

Only problem is, now that he's seen Molly Hood in the lead role, he may never be able to go back to a male Hamlet. The play may be the thing, but in this case, it played far more compellingly with girl parts.

Therein lies the rub.


  1. First time I've ever groaned at the end of one of your blog entries.

  2. Blogging is the new poetry. I find it wonderful and amazing in many ways.