Killer Hamlet at Sehome
by Christopher Key
Sehome High School drama teacher/director Vicki Chaney has never been afraid to challenge her gifted students with difficult material. Her students have never failed to meet the challenge and then some. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been the undoing of many a theatre company, but not this one.
Chaney also knows how to do a lot with a little. She makes imaginative use of a backlighted scrim to make the ghost (Sage Hoag) spectacularly spooky. It also makes Ophelia’s death both beautiful and heart-rending. A great director pays attention to details that many in the audience might miss. Hamlet’s Wittenberg sweatshirt is one such detail.
There is no getting around the fact than one actor has to carry the show and Trip Jakeman is revolutionary in the title role. No melancholy Dane, this. Jakeman howls and rages and chews the scenery into shreds in an interpretation that puts the “mad” into madman. Terrific choice by both actor and director.
Neatly turning the tables on Elizabethan theatre, Chaney casts women in many of the masculine roles. Quinn Rathkamp is thoroughly regal as Claudius, but is (s)he Hamlet’s uncle or aunt? Is there a king and a queen or two queens? There’s some delightful gender-bending going on here and Chaney deliberately keeps the audience guessing. Poor Gertrude (Nell Highleyman) doesn’t know if she’s married her brother-in-law or sister-in-law. Either way, Highleyman delivers an emotional tour-de-force as Hamlet’s mum with the requisite Oedipal subtexts.
Polonius also gets a sex-change with Kaitlyn Schueler as the dispenser of free advice that is worth every penny. It’s nice to see that a woman can be as pompous and self-deluded as a man. Maria Jones is perfectly stalwart as Hamlet’s BFF Horatio and when she sends him speeding off with the angels at the end, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Laertes is played with great bravado by Carly Williams and, again, the audience is left unsure if the character is a man or a woman. Doesn’t matter and that’s what makes this production so extraordinary. The casting choices throw new light onto very familiar characters and that makes good theatre.
Isabelle Bushue is absolutely devastating as Ophelia, both in her acting and her dancing. She does a brief and somewhat violent pas-de-deux with Hamlet and later goes behind the aforementioned scrim for a choreographed death scene that is unforgettable.
The oft-confused Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played delightfully by Freeman Halle and Nick Schackel. Or is that Nick Schackel and Freeman Halle? The supporting cast is just as solid as the leads and, as usual, I apologize for not mentioning all of you by name.
This is the third production of Hamlet I’ve reviewed this year, including Bard on the Beach and Shakespeare Northwest. Ordinarily, that would have left me somewhat jaded. But this production is so well-conceived and well-executed that it kept me from falling into the Chasm of Cliché. Sehome’s Hamlet is so far beyond what would be expected from a high school production that it left me gasping. Don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.
There are only four performances left: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students at the door.
“What a piece of work…”
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