Theater Review: Apollinaire Theatre Company’s “Hamlet” — Thrilling and Peripatetic

With this excellent production, Apollinaire Theatre Company has expanded the possibilities of finding first-rate outdoor Shakespeare in the Boston area.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company at PORT Park, 99 Marginal Street, Chelsea, MA, through July 31.

 A scene from the Apollinaire Theatre Company production of "Hamlet." Photo: Apollinaire Theatre Company.

A scene from the Apollinaire Theatre Company production of “Hamlet” featuring Emily Edström (Horacio), Brooks Reeves (Hamlet), and Julee Antonellis as the Gravedigger. Photo: Apollinaire Theatre Company.

By Ian Thal

Brooks Reeves gives us a Hamlet who combines demagogue and savior, a man loved by the masses. His angry blustering appeals to their worst fears; his “madness” is born of an extremism that’s easy to spot this election year. Even before the ghost of Hamlet’s father (an intensely haunting, Tony Dangerfield) appears on the ramparts of Elsinore Castle, Horatio (Emily Edström) and Marcellus (David Alejandro Quiroz) already know in their bones that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Early on the prince is convinced that his father’s passing was foul play and that his mother’s remarriage to her uncle, despite it having clearly been sanctioned by church and state, is incest. He comes on like Donald Trump, a man who is convinced that President Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim. Or he is a version of the Bernie Sanders supporters who believe that Hilary Clinton could only have clinched the nomination by rigging the primary vote. The ghost of Hamlet’s father tell him what he and his followers want to believe. There is little doubt that no matter what Claudius’ reaction is to the ‘mousetrap,’ this Hamlet would only see a sure admission of guilt.

Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques and the Apollinaire Theatre Company have given us a Hamlet that reflects today’s political climate. Whereas most productions want audiences to sympathize with Hamlet from the outset, Jacques encourages a more ambivalent reaction. We do not see the play’s devious villains as Hamlet does. Instead, Jacques emphasize the competence and gravitas of Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius as they struggle to steer the ship of state.

Robert Cope’s Claudius comes off as a pragmatic ruler concerned about the stability and security of Denmark’s borders. He wants the transition of leadership to be smooth. Yes, he poisoned his way to the top, but that seems preferable to Hamlet’s demagoguery. Claudius act soberly and sanely, only deciding to plot against his nephew once Hamlet has become murderous. Perhaps it wasn’t only personal ambition that inspired him to replace his “warlike” predecessor. Likewise, Maria Lopez-Ponce’s Gertrude is serious-minded about affairs of state; it is Hamlet who is hung up on her sexuality. Polonius, in an eccentric but complex performance from Floyd Richardson, is an effective political operative, protecting the interests of his family, nation, and state. The figure is not the foolish blowhard most other productions proffer. Coming from Richardson, Polonius’ weird, seemingly contradictory advice to Laertes actually makes sense. Given Hamlet’s obvious madness, his warning to Ophelia (Deniz Khateri) come off as hard-edged pragmatic wisdom. Zachary Rice’s Laertes may be patronizing when he gives his sister advice, but his concern is palpable, and when he returns from France he is a menace to all who stand in his way. Khateri’s descent into madness following Polonius’ murder is gripping, but before that she is interestingly guarded. Not the clueless Ophelia of so many other productions.

Jacques and ATC make great use of the outdoor space of PORT Park. Sets are generally eschewed, the transformation of the Chelsea waterfront into Elsinore is accomplished largely through Chris Bocchiaro’s effective placement of lights – whether for otherworldly apparitions or moonlit nights. But one of the greatest assets Jacques has is her familiarity with the park’s landscape – audience members spend much of the play away from their seats and picnic blankets. (Note: wear comfortable shoes; people with mobility issues are provided places to sit or chairs if they haven’t brought their own.) Spectators are led along gravel paths as scenes play out on granite blocks, amongst the tall grasses or beds of wild flowers, across the platforms or under the geodesic domes that were once part of the Chelsea refueling facility, or upon mounds of salt belonging to the adjacent Eastern Salt Company. The animation helps make the play time fly by – once the show begins one never feels the need for an intermission.

The treatment OF the traveling players is particularly interesting. The ensemble cycles through different performance styles: the dumbshow ‘Murder of Gonzago’ is a riotous bit of physical comedy with Joe Reynolds playing a zaftig player queen against Julee Antonellis’ comparatively diminutive, almost rag-doll-limp player king. (The charismatic Antonellis demonstrates enormous range in this production, providing a dramatic reading of the “Moblèd Queen” speech and proving to be a wittily vulgar gravedigger as well. She is new to me and I hope to see more of her on Boston’s stages). As the poisoner in the dumbshow, Rice comes up with mime that dovetails grace and exaggeration – especially when his gestures must account for an absurdly large codpiece.

Susan Paino elects to costume the court at Elsinore in modern dress (and in a nod to realism, she often has the performers change clothes from scene to scene ) with Hamlet frequently scandalizing the palace with his casual outfits. The various red and gold gowns for Gertrude often look stunning set against the mostly black formal wear of Denmark’s aristocracy. Paino adds color with the players, who arrive sporting the large collars and earth tones of 1960s fashion before veering into hilariously garish garb for the dumbshow ‘Murder of Gonzago’ and more fantastical “period” dress of the subsequent ‘Mousetrap.’

Danielle Rosvally’s fight choreography is thrilling – especially in the final confrontation, especially when the pretense of sportsmanship is peeled back to reveal treachery. David Reiffel scores this Hamlet with droning no-wave guitar riffage (Gwendolyn Squires and Joe Reynolds) and plaintive modal violin melodies (Julian Sky Aldana-Tejada).

With imaginative staging and a consistently strong cast, Jacques and ATC have expanded the possibilities of finding first-rate outdoor Shakespeare in the Boston area – this is the Bard under the stars to see this summer.

Ian Thal is a playwright, performer, and theater educator specializing in mime, commedia dell’arte, and puppetry, and has been known to act on Boston area stages from time to time, sometimes with Teatro delle Maschere. He has performed his one-man show, Arlecchino Am Ravenous, in numerous venues in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of his as-of-yet unproduced full-length plays was picketed by a Hamas supporter during a staged reading. He is looking for a home for his latest play, The Conversos of Venice, which is a thematic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Formerly the community editor at The Jewish Advocate, he blogs irregularly at the unimaginatively entitled The Journals of Ian Thal, and writes the “Nothing But Trouble” column for The Clyde Fitch Report.


  1. Ollie Hallowell on July 29, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Ian Thal’s informed and upbeat review of English lit’s most well-known chestnut actually inspired me to go find this obscure outdoor theater in Chelsea. Well worth the trek. On re-reading the review, I agree with it entirely, especially in its praise of the performances of some of the minor characters. Having seen the play many times, I have never so much enjoyed watching the plays-within-the-play, and I agree with Thal, Julee Antonellis is a performer I hope to see more of. The device of changing the sets by having the audience move, rather than moving the sets, was as effective as I’ve ever experienced. When has anyone ever seen Hamlet deliver his most famous soliloquy standing on top of an eerily lit mountain of salt! Or Ophelia being buried inside this same mountain. Nicely paced too – this very long play edited down to just over two hours was a wise and audience-friendly decision.

  2. Ian Thal on August 1, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you, Ollie.

    One of the most rewarding things about being a critic is drawing attention to worthy productions that audiences might never have known about.

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