ETC invites its audience to venture to the turbulent courts of the Kings of Denmark and Britain with scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear, and explore the characters that we either love to love, or love to hate.
In Denmark, the dirt is still soft around King Hamlet’s grave, but Queen Gertrude is quite comfortable in the embrace of the new king, her former brother-in-law and now husband, Claudius, while her son Prince Hamlet seethes for revenge.
In Britain, King Lear decides to take an early retirement from the responsibilities of crown and kingdom, handing the care of his realm on to his daughters, but maintaining all the rights and privileges of the title. Casting off the most beloved of this three daughters, he is suddenly faced with two offspring who are less than doting on dear old dad.
Watch scenes from these two famous plays, and you decide:
- Hamlet: reluctant avenger of his father’s murder, or jealous mama’s boy?
- Queen Gertrude: vulnerable, grieving widow, or bloody adulteress?
- King Claudius: savior of his brother’s struggling realm, or fratricidal usurper?
- King Lear: victim of his wretched progeny, or tyrant?
- Goneril: ungrateful, murderous brat, or misunderstood, neglected daughter trying to find a life?
Cast & Staff
Cast & Staff
(in order of their appearance)
|King Claudius||Chris Kanaga|
|Queen Gertrude||Sr. Danielle Dwyer|
|Player King||Luke Norman|
|Player Queen||Vicky Kanaga|
|Players||Sr. Phoenix Catlin, Heather Catlin, Jeremy Haig, Sarah Hale|
|King Lear||Brad Lussier|
|Regan||Sr. Phoenix Catlin|
Sr. Phoenix Catlin
Sr. Danielle Dwyer
Sr. Danielle Dwyer
To see the entire program or read the program notes click here
News & Reviews
News & Reviews
“Throughout these scenes, the cast demonstrates a grasp of the fine and fragile line that separates the venal act of one more praiseworthy…” —Barnstable Patriot
“Beautifully staged and, even better, magnificently acted…” —Cape Cod Times
Elements actors put audience in the jury box
The play’s the thing all right, but Elements Theatre Company wants the audience to do more than just take in the dialog, scenery and costumes.
Elements is performing its latest theatrical enterprise, Shakespeare’s Own: Vicious or Virtuous? …You Decide, and the cast and crew have mounted another fine production at Paraclete House on Rock Harbor in Orleans. Selected scenes from the tragedies Hamlet and King Lear are performed by ETC, while the audience is asked to listen with a new ear and decide whether five key characters fall on the side of virtuous (“one who sacrifices himself for the good of others”) or vicious (“one who sacrifices others for the good of himself”), according to a working definition given in the program. Ballots are handed out and tallied, and the audience’s judgment is rendered at the end of the play, to a bow from each of the characters being judged.
Hold on – deciding may not be as easy as it sounds! Conversing with audience members during the intermission, director Sr. Danielle Dwyer (who also plays Queen Gertrude in the Hamlet portion) explained that she tried to choose scenes that stressed the more ambiguous aspects of the characters, as they wrestle with the moral and emotional crises that beset them. She emphasized that the performers play their roles “straight up” from the playbook – “We don’t want the actors to manipulate the audience.”
Throughout, the audience is confronted with the double-sided nature of a character’s disposition, where there’s a contrast between the power of spoken words and the actual deeds that are done (or not). Witness Claudius, who declaims in his cry to the gods: “Forgive me my foul murder!” – but quickly realizes, “That cannot be; since I am still possess’d/Of those effects for which I did the murder,/My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.”
Throughout these scenes, the cast demonstrates a grasp of the fine and fragile line that separates the venal act from one more praiseworthy, and enables us to savor Shakespeare’s great gift…. his ability to convey his complex and sometimes archaic speech so that we clearly understand what’s going on, and – most amazingly – see the “modern” embodied in that sixteenth-century language. Hearing expertly trained Shakespearean performers speaking these centuries-old lines and recognizing some aspects of Goneril, Hamlet, Cordelia or Claudius in ourselves can give us a turn. Whether whiny, spoiled, forgiving, selfless or treacherous, these characters can remind us of … us.
To enhance their command of the Bard’s turns of phrase, ETC players received extensive language-based training with teachers trained in Shakespearean theater from such places as London and Lenox, Mass., including well-known voice and speech coach Louis Colaianni in New York City. Down to the smallest spoken part, the actors’ performances admirably reflect this rigorous training.
This show is a superlative example of Elements’ ability to mount a fine production. The costume designers have emphasized the overall theme of presenting a neutral “face” so as not to distract the audience from the personal dramas enacted onstage, and players are beautifully attired in muted grays with a few mauve digressions, while the sets are plain horizontal platforms and cubes of varying heights. Periodically an actor takes the spotlight to fill in the narrative gaps, so the drama retains its continuity with the scenes not shown. The action moves seamlessly, and the timing is pitch-perfect.
One dramatic turn has eight white-masked, white-clad actors portraying the ghost of Hamlet’s father, to enormous dramatic effect. Appearing from an enveloping mist, they eventually surround a kneeling Hamlet, speaking singly and in unison, and creating a sort of undulating wave of sound.
In a question-and-answer session following the performance, cast members were asked how they felt about their own characters and the judgments passed on them. All expressed their goal of presenting the characters “well enough” so that the audience could take a closer look at various facets of their personalities and thus make a less biased judgment. Lear (Brad Lussier) suggested that Lear himself “talks more than he does,” and thus his sins are perhaps more “pardonable.” While Claudius (Chris Kanaga) admitted praying for forgiveness, in the end he’s done so many treacherous deeds he “can’t go back.” Of her role as Gertrude, Dwyer felt that despite the queen’s vulnerability and weak nature, “In the end, Gertrude wants to be queen.” Hamlet (Kyle Norman) really “wanted to be virtuous.”
In the end, it’s a complicated decision for audience members to make. We’re asked to take a tantalizing tightrope walk and weigh the discrepancies between words and what may lie behind them – as Claudius well knew, when he ended his soliloquy with, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” This fine play draws us closer to the magic of Shakespeare and the great gift of his language, traveling to us over a space of more than 400 years. And it’s a tribute to Elements’ stated purpose of believing “in the vitality of the word, and the community born between playwright, actor and audience.”
Shakespeare: Much to admire, but something’s missing
By David Allen, Cape Cod Times
There certainly have been a lot of things done to, and with, the works of William Shakespeare through the years. Drag productions, productions set in the Old West and in outer space. Even attempts, particularly in the 19th century, to rewrite the endings of the tragedies for a more pleasant conclusion. (Look! Romeo and Juliet do live happily ever after!)
The appeal is obvious. The playwright has been dead for hundreds of years and thus can’t collect royalties or complain about what’s being done to his work. Not that he would, however. Although we know comparatively little about the life of Shakespeare, we do know that he was mostly in it for the money. He went to London to make his living in the theater, and when he made enough from his plays and part ownership of the Globe Theatre, he retired and high-tailed it back to Stratford. Even so, the plays themselves are so complex and rich that they invite a variety of interpretations and treatments, and that’s a good thing.
Which brings us the latest work of the Elements Theatre Company: “Shakespeare’s Own — Vicious or Virtuous …. You Decide: Scenes From Hamlet and King Lear.” The gimmick here is that the company presents selected scenes from two of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, “Hamlet” and “King Lear,” and then asks audience members to vote “vicious” or “virtuous” for selected characters via ballots placed on their chairs. At the end, the results of the voting are revealed.
On the plus side, this is a company that really knows how to do Shakespeare. It is beautifully staged and, even better, magnificently acted. The entire acting company is superb. It has clearly worked hard on the language — the text is there in all its glory. But, more important, the director, Sister Danielle Dwyer (who also plays Queen Gertrude in “Hamlet”) and her cast have understood completely that Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not as great reading material. The actions of the characters, their motives and machinations, are all brilliantly played out. As just one example of many, the scene in which King Lear, very ably rendered by Brad Lussier, curses his own daughter is heartbreaking. The entire company does a terrific job of expressing the actions of the plays, not just the words. You never get the sense that characters are standing around waiting for their next line. They are always fully and completely “in the moment.” It’s a real joy to watch.
The visual aspect of the production is equally well-done. The costumes are all rendered in shades of gray, presumably to avoid too much delineation and, thus, tipping the vote. But they are richly made and the somber tone makes the occasional use of vivid red in set pieces a visual treat. The simple staging, using only platforms and boxes, serves to highlight what Shakespeare knew — it’s all about the actor. And these actors bring the worlds of Hamlet and King Lear vividly to life.
But, ultimately, it’s hard to get past what’s missing. Presumably, if Shakespeare could have effectively told the story of Hamlet in an hour and a half, instead of the actual four-hour running time, he would have done so. (His primary goal being schillings, they might have been able to do two shows on Thursdays.) There’s no “To be, or not to be” in this production. Hamlet doesn’t have a lot of time for in-depth self-reflection. Lear, too, descends into madness awfully quickly. Or is that because we know there’s more than what we’re seeing? It’s an interesting question: Because the plays of Shakespeare are so much a part of our cultural consciousness, is this “tinkering with the Bard” a flawed enterprise from the start? One of the delights of the movie “Shakespeare in Love” was watching that audience experience “Romeo and Juliet” for the very first time. It was probably the last audience to, in total, have no clue what was going to happen at the end. We know, though, that there’s more to “King Lear” and “Hamlet” than this two-hour-plus performance, and while it’s very skillfully done, does the attempt to distill certain characters into either-or, one-word descriptions justify the cutting?
I, for one, would have much rather seen this skilled ensemble attempt either one of the plays in full. For all of his other virtues, what Shakespeare did best was create multidimensional, fully human characters. Even the villainous Richard III becomes admirable in his treacherous skill. It’s hard not to be somehow impressed by a guy who can attempt to seduce the widow of someone he’s just killed at the man’s funeral. It’s nearly an exercise in futility, even in a truncated version, to distill Hamlet down to “vicious” or “virtuous.” Even once we do so, what’s the point?
It would be highly enjoyable to watch the talented Rachel McKendree play Ophelia in her entirety, or have Chris Kanaga explore all of the rich facets of King Claudius. This company could do a great job with either of these or almost any play by Shakespeare. What it has done is highly theatrical and exceptional. But I’d give up the chance to vote to see it do the whole play.
From the Director
From the Director
Thank you for being a part of this event which marks our first venture into the world of interactive theatre! This idea has grown on us considerably since we first began to contemplate staging a show featuring five of Shakespeare’s characters. Characters whose stories provide room for considerable thought and reflection on this question: which character’s actions can be seen in the light of both virtue and vice and by which are they ruled?
The idea of a life being ruled by virtue or vice is not a new one. For the medieval mind, there were seven virtues to counter the seven deadly sins. Obviously, this would have been a very live concept in Shakespeare’s day and, as we can see in his plays, a concept that provides a point of great turmoil for some of his characters. We watch as these characters learn about themselves in the mirror of their actions, where they are both confronted and empowered. For some, the image of self that they recognize in the mirror moves them; for others, the recognition moves them not. We have the opportunity to watch what Hamlet says to the players, “…hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature.”
These two plays, Hamlet and King Lear are rich in drama and storytelling, and populated with dynamic, volatile, and vulnerable characters. In both plays we see the break up of a kingdom and a family. We see how the body politic affects the lives and homes of her citizens. We can hear Shakespeare ask, “If the royals are not well, and sane, who can be safe? Who will step into the breach and speak for the good of a nation, for the virtue that rules a kingdom against the vices that destroy men when the monarch is fallen or in decay?” Shakespeare gives us great literature through which we can turn over these questions in our minds today.
So, we wish you very good luck tonight as you watch the flounderings of kings, the turmoil of a mother, and wife, and role reversals in parent-child relationships. In the midst of these conflicts, you will also find humor, madness, sadness and sacrifice. Lastly, to aid in your decision making process we have chosen a grey scale both for the set and the costumes. Our intention is that without embellishment or distraction the character’s actions and motivations alone are the grounds for your decisions on the vicious or the virtuous.
Thank you for joining us.