NAMPA — Although the story is the same, the Encore Theatre Company’s use of steampunk elements does seem to cast a new spin to Shakespeare’s classic “Hamlet.”
Director Jonathan Perry and costumer Bobbi Carlson must have had lots of fun designing masks, giant puppet machines, and outfits that ranged from the Victorian age to outer space. The steampunk genre originated in the 1980s and ‘90s, and combines fantasy, science fiction, horror and steam-age fashions and design.
Joseph Stevenson as Hamlet wears Hamlet’s traditional black, which, with leather pants, jacket and high boots gives him a dashing look. Stevenson gives a brilliant performance as the melancholy prince, skillfully creating a character driven half mad by the apparition of his father’s ghost and its tale of the king’s evil murder by his brother.
In true steampunk style, Hamlet dons a golden trimmed mask when he dissembles, pretending not to know the father of Ophelia, Polonius, or toying with former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This comic pair are delightfully portrayed by Mitch Barker and Doug Clemens, bowing, bobbing and curtseying in their desperate attempts to please, in almost over the top steampunk garb, with one wearing a safari helmet and the other a pilot’s cap with earphones.
Ophelia is given a fresh new look by lovely Sarah Howard, with a unique sauciness that makes her very endearing. Ophelia’s normally cheerful nature makes her confusion and inability to cope with the death of her father and the rejection by her lover, Hamlet, even sadder and more tragic than usual.
Rick Lopez is perfect as the garrulous Polonius, pontificating and lecturing endlessly, even while promising he will be brief, until the audience is almost relieved when Hamlet executes him by mistake.
King Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and the murderer of his father, is regally portrayed by Skip Carter, who also reveals how the pain of his guilty conscience obstructs his prayers, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, Words without thoughts never to Heaven go.“ But he still proceeds to arrange plots to kill the annoying Hamlet.
Jodi Perry is elegant and troubled as Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, who married her brother-in-law a short time after her husband’s death. Perry shows the queen as a weak woman, almost eager to believe her son is mad, although terrified of his rages about her hasty marriage.
Jeremiah Mathot creates a dashing Laertes, part advice giver (like his father, Polonius) and part noble avenger of his sister’s and father’s deaths, and his duel with Hamlet is exciting and well-directed.
The Ghost is impressively portrayed by Ben Gowers, in a Darth Vader style mask that distorts his voice, and with long gray locks hanging down over his tattered suit.
Nate Paine sensitively plays Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, wearing a “Phantom of the Opera” style half mask. Paine’s character is the sole surviving principle player, and thanks to judicious editing by Director Perry, the ending comes with the death of Hamlet, and does away with the usual cluttered arrival of Fortinbras and attendants.
Since I reviewed this play at pre-opening night, sort of a dress rehearsal, I am sure the pacing, which sometimes lagged, will become crisper as the actors become more at ease in their roles. The sound design by Gregg Irwin greatly enhances the eerie elements of the drama and sets the mood for outstanding imaginative creativity.