Orange County Theatre Reviews

(Photo courtesy: Susie Sprinkel Hudson)

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

Many, if not most leading characters in successful fiction today have qualities that endear them to the viewer, making them desirable as friends, lovers, or both.  But before there was all that nonsense about actually liking the star, there was someone else–there was Hamlet.  An angst-filled Danish prince forever brooding about his castle, Hamlet is often described with words like “depressed,” “whiny,” and “cowardly.” As a result, he has often been the target of viewers’/readers’ scorn, derision, and annoyance.   In contrast, is the portrayal from American Coast Theater Company’s Hamlet.  The young prince here is heavily sarcastic, bitter, and volatile. He is not likable or sympathetic, but he has a strange energy to keep you hooked.  

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the tragic story of a Danish prince of the same name who has been called upon to avenge his father’s murder.  The apparent perpetrator is Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, who now reigns from the late King’s throne.  Over this two-hour and thirty-minute play, we watch as Hamlet grows obsessed with ensuring his Uncle’s guilt and how and when the villain should pay for his crime.  Meanwhile, the people around Hamlet grow increasingly disturbed by Hamlet’s distracted nature, and he is declared mad and dangerous by his Uncle’s followers.

The American Coast Theater Company is playing their production of Hamlet over in Vanguard University’s theater.  Hamlet’s set is a simple gray stage with a dark balcony that keeps the mood heavy with gloom for much of the play, and the late King’s tomb is stationed conspicuously in the middle of the stage.  It seems that how the players interact with the vault is indicative of the scene’s mood as well as the mood and overall temperament of the characters.  As far as movement goes, Hamlet can do no wrong.  The characters run, jump, romp, hug, and generally climb all over the place. With such emotional zest, one can follow each person’s story and overall intent quite well.  The fight sequences, though far and few between, are hardly standard.  You will find yourself on the edge of your seat multiple times.  Interaction with the audience is pretty good as well. At various appropriate moments, the actors meander up and down the aisles, posing questions and statements to the audience members. There’s even one scene where a few lucky patrons are selected to mount the stage!

As Prince Hamlet, actor James McHale has a particular bite that belies the weakness often attributed to the character.  None of his actions seem fear-driven. Instead, McHale’s Hamlet spends most of his time being driven by anger, even in his most doubtful moments.  Hamlet’s temperamental outbursts in this show make for a more exciting performance, if not necessarily more morally sound.  Hamlet is still as depressed as he ever was, but in his rage, he seems a tad more dangerous when provoked.  The rest of the cast blends in a seamless display of poise and character consistency.

Overall the American Coast Theater Company’s production of Hamlet is well-performed and thoroughly engaging.  The well-understood characters seem to have been studied well by their performers, and each scene is delivered with passion and excitement.  

It runs through July 3rd 

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  • Paul Eggington (Claudius), James McHale (Hamlet)
  • Paul Eggington (Claudius), James McHale (Hamlet)
  • Foreground, left to right: Katie Canavan (Rosencrantz), James McHale (Hamlet). Background: Aaron McGee (Guildenstern), Ian Jenkins (Attendant)
  • James McHale (Hamlet), Jason Evans (Laertes)
  • Left to right: Ahmed Brooks (Polonius), Taylor Stephenson (Osric), Katie Canavan (Rosencrantz), Lola Kelly (Ophelia), William Crisp (Ghost), James McHale (Hamlet), Jason Evans (Laertes), Susan K. Berkompas (Gertrude), Aaron McGee (Guildenstern), Paul Eggington (Claudius)

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