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Minimalist cast does 'Hamlet' proud

Dave Olmsted of Patriot-News

The play's the thing ... Shakespeare wrote in "Hamlet." But in Gamut Classic Theatre's recent production at Strawberry Square, the cast was the thing.

Five amazing actors portrayed 16 characters in this abridged version of the tragedy. It wasn't the stodgy three-hour version you were forced to read in high school, but a rollicking, roller coaster ride of iambic pentameter pared down to 80 minutes. Director and editor Melissa H. Nicholson did the Bard proud with this animated and lively production. Her actors quickly transformed from one character to another as they deftly presented one of the world's most famous plays.

The pre-show music set the mood for the tale of the melancholy Dane, who returns from school to find his father dead and his mom married to his uncle. Revenge, murder and madness soon follow.

The multilevel set of planks and stone served its purpose of providing the many settings of Elsinore castle, although I was bothered by two areas that never seemed to be used: three steps on stage left that went nowhere and a curtained area on the second level with a large sword. Costumes were also a bit confusing with mixtures of modern pants and shirts and then some period pieces made from very shiny material.

But the real highlight was the cast. Even when all five actors were onstage, you thought there were more people in the show. That's how good they were.

Clark Nicholson brought vast experience and talent to characters such as Claudius and the Ghost, and his excellent comic skills shone as the Gravedigger. Amber Wagner deftly captured the male persona of Rosencrantz and then easily switched back to Gertrude. Sean Adams yo-yoed between the doddering Polonius and his arrogant son, Laertes.

Robert Campbell's Hamlet really connected with the famous "To be or not to be ..." soliloquy. His scene with Polonius played up the humor, and his Hamlet was on fire with Ophelia during the "Get thee to a nunnery" scene.

As Ophelia, Melissa Dunphy flew around the set. Her mad scene and beautiful singing voice were mesmerizing. I loved the fluidity of her movement as she portrayed the Player Queen and Lucianus, and her transformations into Horatio and Guildenstern defied the elements of time.

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