Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: A Bloodbath for the Ages

Have you ever seen the commercial for Taco Bell’s new quesarito? The one where they take one item and combine it with another item to create one epic item? Imagine creating the quesarito of Shakespeare. In Bottom’s Dream’s The Ghost, co-creators Caitlin White and Nat Angstrom take fan favorite Shakespeare tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth and produce a bloody thematic wonder.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a young man named Hamlet vows vengeance for the wrongful murder of his father by the hands of his power-hungry uncle, Claudius. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a power-hungry man named Macbeth vows supremacy after murdering the King of Scotland. In Bottom’s Dream’s The Ghost, a young man named Hamlet Macduff vows vengeance after the power-hungry man Cladius Macbeth gains supremacy after murdering the king through the influence of his new bride, Gertrude Macduff, Hamlet Macduff's mother. The Ghost is a smart and provocative mash-up of two great Shakespearean dramas that go together quite well. The Ghost takes inspiration and text from the pair of scripts and structures them in a manner that allows for a fairly cohesive plot. What White and Angstrom cleverly do is take the basics of the individual characters, finds their companion, and still manage to give each character their own identity. But perhaps some of the more intriguing character creations are the newly multidimensional and motivated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They get their attached at the hip moments but as the play progresses, the two break away from the mold and find their own journey, becoming evil and good respectively. As with both of the source material, there are secondary characters that are necessary to further the plot. Similarly, The Ghost employs those characters. However, their presence could be pared down as the House Banquo plot is primarily an Act II device. With an excess of material, The Ghost can be shaved down into an intermissionless action-packed epic.
It takes a certain actor to capture the intricacies of the Bard. To tackle a two-for-one Shakespeare is certainly hard. Fortunately, some of the ensemble was up for the challenge. The strongest actor on stage happened to be the dynamic John Hardin as the beautifully complex Rosencrantz. Hardin eased into his character and gave him great depth, finding a wonderful villainous technique. Hardin and his partner Matthew Castleman as Guildenstern played well off of one another, though Castleman was outshined in the end. An almost equally strong performance came from Ross Hamman as the hero of the tale Hamlet Macduff. Hamman already had a beast of a character with Hamlet, but adding the Macduff layer was quite great. Hamman gave these characters a wonderful humanity. Joanna Sacco as Gertrude Macduff gave a grounded performance that evoked a new kind of spirit for the matriarch.
Shakespeare requires a clear directorial vision. Director Nat Angstrom, who served as his own collaborator as he designed both lights and set as well, took matters in his own hands. Fortunately Angstrom’s vision was clear and executed in a near flawless way. Angstrom solidified a dark tone throughout, keeping the aura dark and ominous. He used the space well, capitalizing on the nooks and crannies of the theater. The set was simple. A singular white bathtub stood on a riser that the actors interacted with as a source of a physical and metaphorical cleanse. Angstrom’s lighting design was clean and precise with a stunning added touch of exposed light bulbs. Though no costume designer was listed, the majority of the company wore black. Those who didn’t, Hamlet Macduff and Ophelia Macduff specifically, unfortunately stood out as it almost appeared as an inconsistency. There was a wonderful drum underscore that filled the space with a wonderful ambiance but it was the canned piano score by Nick Bombicino that didn’t seem to work as well.
Though it’s billed as a weaving of Hamlet and Macbeth, The Ghost is more than that. It is a creative concept that allows the thematic classics to live as one.