Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s “hmlt,” a minimalist, contemporary take on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” is one of the company’s most inventive, insightful productions in all its nine seasons.
Clever pop culture and modern technology references make the piece as timely as today’s headlines, while sacrificing none of Shakespeare’s perceptive understanding of human nature.
Serendipity had a hand in the success. After the company lost its scheduled space in downtown Durham four days before opening night, director Jaybird O’Berski did a complete rethink, programming the show in outdoor settings.
This first weekend, it’s at Durham’s Oval Park, a small urban facility with a few rows of concrete seats in one corner. With streetlights the only permanent lighting, the cast performs in intimate, close-up scenes, lit by two powerful hand-held beams (expertly wielded by stage managers JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell and Kristian King). This narrowed focus and accompanying shadows add much to the play’s dark atmosphere.
Reduced to just under two hours with intermission, the production moves along quickly, aided by the actors’ sense of urgency and dramatic physical expressions of emotion. Modern substitutes for some parts of the play (treating “To be or not to be” as a rap song; making the climatic sword fight a boxing match) somehow work in this context, adding humor yet retaining the impact. The cast wears everyday clothing (shorts, summer dresses) and has cellphones and suitcases, supplying a naturalness to the proceedings, enhanced by the actors’ normal-sounding delivery of Shakespeare’s language.
Jade Arnold’s funny, expressive and ultimately moving Hamlet impresses with its fresh readings of familiar lines, often imparting new subtleties. Dale Wolf’s fussy, feisty Polonius makes a stern father to Nick Prey’s Laertes and Caitlin Wells’ Ophelia, both innocent youths unaware of the evils around them.
Jeff Alguire’s wily, slick Claudius and Susannah Hough’s coolly smug Gertrude make their changes of heart gripping. Dana Marks gives Horatio a goofy, comic spin while Ian Bowater makes the Ghost a chiding, no-nonsense apparition.
The spontaneous grunts, shouts and cries from Thursday’s audience proved the production’s palpable engagement, indicative of director O’Berski’s astute use of simple but effective means.