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Shakespeare’s HAMLET through the Eyes of Teen Critics

Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances. Fourteen young critics are participating in this year’s program and below are excerpts from some of their reviews.

Read the group’s past reviews on The Lover and The Collection and Twelfth Night.

Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.

Emily Mayo, Sophomore
Walt Whitman High School

To see or not to see the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Hamlet before it closes on March 4th, that is the question. If a fresh, politically poignant, and shockingly comic take on an old standby of classical literature is what you seek, you’ve found an affirmative answer.

Maggie Klein, Senior
Oakton High School

After the three-hour emotional gauntlet that is Hamlet, I wasn’t sure if I’d be fulfilled or disappointed, exhilarated or exhausted, solemn or sorrowful or serious or sad. The one thing I didn’t expect to be was surprised. In a play filled with ghosts and murder, I certainly didn’t expect to connect with the characters and laugh as much I did. Granted, the play’s universal themes and deep exploration of the human condition are what have kept it so relevant for so many years, but Michael Kahn’s decision to set the play in modern times and Michael Urie’s impeccable comedic timing are what made this Hamlet so relatable to me.

Douglas Griffin, Senior
Wakefield County Day School

Where this dystopian take on the play really excels is not in its surprise but in its execution. The slow march of the fascist government of Claudius to take over every aspect of life is masterfully shown through a series of small subtleties and an armband here, a salute there, the slow loss of smiles, the slow proliferation of guards. This transition, both subtle and obvious, harmonized marvelously well with the transition in the play from serious and somewhat humorous to serious and bleak. The transition from fun and free to fascist is most clearly seen in the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Kelsey Rainwater and Ryan Spahn) who pull off a nuanced transition of character which feels very deliberate and a subtle assertion of independence from Tom Stoppard’s modernist play. Having Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be less clueless than usual is probably the most refreshing and memorable acting choice in the play.

Pria Dahiya, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

Michael Urie gives a truly electric performance as Hamlet. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is more than his inability to choose whether to kill his uncle- he fluctuates between angry and sad, inspired and depressed, at times laughing at his ludicrous situation and then pointing a gun at his head. Urie’s Hamlet did not launch into his soliloquies because he was some introspective, tragic poet. His Hamlet launched into these soliloquies because he was angry, because he was confused, and he needed to use these words to help him process the truly overwhelming situation he was dealing with. Some might prefer subtlety, but by the time Hamlet was on his fourth soliloquy I was glad he was yelling, pounding the floor with his fists and waving his arms manically.

Lily Pérez, Sophmore
Woodrow Wilson Senior High School

Particularly successful is his pairing with the unfledged Ophelia (Oyin Oladejo), who matches Hamlet’s immaturity in her dress, wearing school-girl style skirts which greatly contrast the formal suits or lavish gowns of other members of the court, and attitude, her heartbreaking final monologues being sung as if a children’s song. Having witnessed them texting on cell phones whilst their parents discuss military strategy, their enamored scenes feel appropriate, and their parallel displays of madness well established. Rather than emphasizing the serious aspects of his role as counselor to the king, Robert Joy’s Polonius revels in his laughable ramblings about a wide array of topics, making him a realistic target of Hamlet’s mockery.

Becca Kurtz, Sophomore
School Without Walls

Oyin Oladejo plays an opinionated, almost philosophical Ophelia, who takes on her crush’s contagious insanity following the death of her father at Hamlet’s hand. Her fits of madness manifest themselves in the song she sings before her supposed suicide. Expressing few coherent thoughts and fully occupying the attention of the party present for her intimate mini-funeral, manic Ophelia is emotionally and visually distinct from early Ophelia. Mania changes her character from a blue button-down little girl to a salmony silk dressed, transparent person.

Molly Marsh, Sophomore
Oakton High School

The actors weren’t the only ones to add to the dark, dim atmosphere of the play. Broken Chord, the original and sound designers, provide subtle underscore that was played in the background of some of the more powerful scenes. The music had an electronic sound that linked well with the modern time in which this production was set. They added a whole other layer of eerie creepiness to the show and intensified the lines being delivered. However it was the silence in some scenes that really gave the show that chilling effect. As Oyin Oladejo’s Ophelia sang her sad love songs a cappella, I got goosebumps from the silent pauses in which you could hear a pen drop from anywhere in the theater. This lack of music allowed me to connect with her pain.

Ester Luna, Freshman
Washington International School

The set, designed by John Coyne, is mainly made of metal, gray and rather plain, which accentuates the large political emblems often attached to various staircases and panels. There are three small television screens hanging center stage that can be raised and then lowered back down depending on the scene. They are used as security cameras (especially in the beginning when the officers and Hamlet see the ghost of the deceased King of Denmark), or as a general news channel flashing the faces of important characters during their appearances. Costumes, designed by Jess Goldstein, are sleek and professional, usually consisting of blazers and pencil skirts for women, and suits for men. The two notable exceptions to this norm are Hamlet (who wore gray skinny jeans and cardigan), and Ophelia (donning a shirt and a flowy skirt with leggings underneath it). This choice served to further differentiate the two young adults from their often controlling, politics-obsessed parents and entourage.

Isabel Echavarria, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

Overall I felt that Kahn’s Hamlet was compelling and thought provoking. The show tied together the timeless themes about what it means to be human with the danger of powerful government. This production is one that encourages discussion about human existence, consciousness, and purity, all themes evident in Shakespeare’s original text. However, the production urges viewers to extend that discussion to the government’s roll in monitoring and defining these fundamental themes. The show left me pondering on human nature and government power, and how Shakespeare’s insight on these themes remains applicable to this day.

Kelai’ah Wheelan, Senior
Suitland High School

This play is thought provoking by itself and through the addition of a social issue, a well picked cast, a creative director, and an active crew Hamlet has further been proven to be a play to stand the test of time and one I recommend many people to see as possible.

Rachel Wei, Senior
Thomas S. Wootton High School

Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Hamlet was thought-provoking, promoted involvement and awareness in the political realm, witty, and left me pondering a question we all must grapple with sooner or later: “to be or not to be?” If you appreciate food for thought, and the thrill of live theater, experience Hamlet at Sidney Harman Hall before it closes on March 4.

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