Shakespeare’s Tantalizing Tragedy Gets Modern with Jon Tracy
by K. Marguerite Caronna
Director Jon Tracy manages to cue a lone vulture to circle overhead for Marin Shakes’ “Hamlet” in the park. The birds add to the enduring wonder and reward of live theater outdoors, and the return of Marin Shakespeare Company.
Tracy’s abbreviated script drives the play with an insistent beat. Sunday afternoon, working against a stiff wind, the cast and crew delivered a dynamic performance.
In Tracy’s innovative and dimensional version, lines are truncated and jagged, underscoring the “rottenness” in the Danish kingdom. A fitting backdrop of a colonnade crumbling at the corners represents the corrupt, decaying Danish court. Set amidst the towering trees of Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, the suggestive design creates a somber setting for this Elsinore.
This Hamlet tampers with time, freezing the action while exhorting the audience to bear witness to his schemes, each more daring than the last. As Hamlet, Nick Musleh begins haltingly but develops into an avenger captivated by his own outwardly mad deceit. The action is replete with emotional and physical violence, mirroring our current political news.
As Old Hamlet’s Ghost, Michael Torres menaces. As Claudius, he brings a power-crazed usurper to life. Claudius strides into court wearing a glittering crown. But his new-found splendor is outshone by Queen Gertrude (Bridgette Loriaux), a glamorous mannequin. The optics are contemporary.
Gertrude’s craven expediency invites little compassion from her son. She only fuels Hamlet’s rage as court loyalties shift and Hamlet’s social status drops.
Richard Pallaziol plays Polonius as another unctuous schemer. Pallaziol creates a superlative Polonius whose every gesture and nuance fit perfectly, without being overblown—comedic but not clownish, Pallaziol’s performance is a treat.
Ophelia (désirée freda) is a pill-popping, headphone wearing puppet, controlled by her ambitious father. Polonius and the royals scheme to marry her to Hamlet, hoping to calm his fury.
Hamlet’s shunning of Ophelia is part of his plan—with dire results. The “to be, or not to be” soliloquy becomes a dialogue between Ophelia and Hamlet. But their choppy duet disrupts the rhythm and intimacy between lovers who can complete each other’s thoughts. Their characters lack tenderness.
Later, Gertrude hands Ophelia pill after pill while bemoaning her own fate as “pretty Gertrude.” In this world, women are but pawns. Ophelia puts on her Beats and performs a death dance. The cast closes in on her, forcing her down into the “grave,” buried alive, as she has lived.
The play within the play, a masque by Lady Zen and Rinabeth Apostol, exposes the guilty. Time and redemption are running out for them all, as poisoned swords and fatal libations lace Hamlet’s final confrontation with corruption.
Pack a picnic or enjoy concessions, catch this chance to see a unique rendering of “Hamlet” and return to theater in the park.
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, directed with lighting design by Jon Tracy, set design by Nina Ball, sound by Ben Euphrat & Lady Zen, costumes by Miyuki Bierlein & Luisa Frasconi, at Marin Shakespeare Company, San Rafael, California. Info: MarinShakespeare.org – to July 16, 2023.
Cast: Rinabeth Apostol, Stevie DeMott, désirée freda, Bridgette Loriaux, Nick Musleh, Richard Pallaziol, Michael Torres, and Lady Zen.
Banner photo: “Hamlet” – Set Design by Nina Ball. Photos: Jay Yamada