Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Southern Gothic literature, and bluegrass music. What do they all have in common? They’re the inspiration for the Short Life of Trouble, a harmonious twangy drama about family and revenge. Created, written, and adapted by Valerie Redd, Shakepeare’s titual character is dropped in the deep south and accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack that sets the tone for the sepia-toned world.
In this adaptation of Hamlet, we watch the young man one day lay his father to rest and then witness the affair between his mother and his uncle all while falling for the beautiful Ophelia. As with any adaptation, previous knowledge of the source material truly aids in the understanding of the new world. With the natural drawl of this world, the stakes seemed lowered, mostly due to the pacing. But by straying away from the lust for power as in the source material, focusing more on betrayal and family pain, the lowered stakes could be forgiven. While it may take you some time to get used to the southern accent mixed with the Shakespearean text and the soliloquy after soliloquy format, what makes Short Life of Trouble a truly beautiful and unique theatrical experience is the music. When you have a company of actors who can not only sing but sing in such stunning harmonies, you can’t help but fall. One of the grander highlights of this is between Hamlet and Ophelia, played by Brendan Spieth and Valerie Redd, singing the title song. You’re captivated by their love and see a new side of their relationship that rarely gets explored. Both Spieth and Redd play their parts with confidence. Spieth touches upon the pained soul of Hamlet yet finds the humanity within. Redd’s Ophelia is beautiful, drawn to madness by unrequited love, something that certainly strikes a chord. Sheila Joon and Andy Talen do a superb job making Horatio and Bernardo worthy characters.
One of the most innovative moments of the show came through the “play’s the thing” scene. Instead of traveling players, we watch a traveling church catch the conscience of Claudius. Everything about the lively and vivacious scene worked perfectly. This was director Eric Powell Holm’s shinning moment. Beyond this moment, his staging was simple, but one of the sole moments with the entire company on stage accompanied with the uptempo music, made the scene the heart and soul of the piece. Anastasia Romantsova’s scenic design and Christina Rene Plhemus’s costumes worked great together. The color scheme evoked the location, bringing us straight into the world. The shadow work by lighting designer Michael McGee allowed for a interesting picture to create the ghost of Hamlet. The only jarring aspect of this moment was the obtrusive noise that accompanied the ghost’s arrival.
Short Life of Trouble is a fresh spin on the Hamlet tale bringing the gothic thriller to life. The music is bound to win you over and beg for a cast album to be recorded.