Acting Up Productions isn’t the first theater company to cast a woman in the lead role in “The Tragedy of Hamlet” (through July 26 at Marian University). But I’m happy to report that what could have been a gimmick instead proved to be a casting coup.
Lauren Briggeman’s performance isn’t the only strength in R. Brian Noffke’s production, but she’s what transforms this from a worthy take on the material (presented in lovely surroundings) into a must-see for Indy theater lovers…and for those who haven’t yet seen the great play on stage.
It seems like a year since I heard that Noffke had cast Briggeman in the part and that time spent with the material has paid off. The best-known speeches blend seamlessly with the rest of the dialogue, giving this “Hamlet” more of a sense of being a smart character study than a carved-in-stone classic. Briggeman has a gift—honed, obviously, by diligent work—in making clear the complex feelings behind the poetry.
This “Hamlet,” loosely set in contemporary America but retaining Shakespeare's text, is also gifted with a ghost (Bernard Wurger) who manages to be both sympathetic and frightening even when arriving in daylight, a Player King (Dan Flahive) whose friendship with Hamlet is charming, and a Claudius (Doug Powers) whose occasional William Shatner cadence reveals a man adept at addressing the public but at a loss when dealing with family matters. The play has been judiciously trimmed but not hacked—this isn’t a 90-minute-and-done Viewmaster version of Shakespeare but a full and rich production.
The second half doesn’t have the steam of the first, in part because survivors Laertes and Horatio don’t have the presence of dear departed Polonius (David Mosedale) and Ophelia (Leah DeWalt) and in part because the Americanization of the environment gives these sordid affairs less political weight. The fate of just people, not countries, are on the line now and the anachronistic (for the contemporary time period) duel seems an odd game to be playing when death is all around.
Still, Acting Up has crafted a piece of work that is noble in reason, express and admirable. And you are unlikely to see the likes of Lauren Briggeman in it again so I recommend you get thee to it.