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Center Stage: Superb and tension-filled 'Hamlet' explodes in Olney

NP Hamlet3Hamlet as staged in Olney brings a unique sense of tension. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

OLNEY – This upcoming weekend is the last chance to see Olney Theatre Centre’s free production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” performed by the National Players.

The National Players are an Olney Theatre-based touring company celebrating nearly 68 years of performances.

Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway’s set is both practical and inventive.

The backdrop appears to be an assortment of wooden cabinets stacked on top of each other, with fold-out paintings and tables that emphasize the actors’ dialogue while creating a sense of immersion.  

A particularly creative addition to the set is a door frame attached to a rolling platform with rungs on the sides. This feature adds to some dramatic scenes, such as when Hamlet’s father (Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo) uses the rungs to crouch hauntingly over his son.

The movement of the actors is also superb.

Without skipping a beat, they move in their own props as they jostle about their scenes, which feature dancing, sword fighting, and creative uses of a table, just to name a few.

NP HamletHamlet, as performed at the Olney Theatre Center. PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

Jered Hobbs, the star of the show, plays Hamlet, the brooding protagonist. Hobbs takes the form of the tragic hero masterfully, putting his entire being into expressing Hamlet’s torment.

The anger and loneliness of this character is epitomized in Hobbs’ heart-felt delivery of Hamlet’s signature soliloquy: “To be, or not to be,” as well as his disgust toward the treacherous Claudius.

Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo smoothly plays both Uncle Claudius and Hamlet’s father, the latter being a small yet significant part performed with poise and drama.

However, Bustelo shines as a charming yet slimy Claudius and doesn’t hesitate to display physical affection for Gertrude (Allyson Boate) at every opportunity.

Along with a well-played tension between hero and antagonist, Hamlet and Claudius are accompanied by a stellar cast.

Members include an Ophelia who becomes blissfully insane (Lynn Favin); a jovial grave digger (Moira Todd); and the endearing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Guadalupe Campos and Alex Turner), just to name a few.

The dramatic lighting and well-placed sound effects greatly add to the mood of the play, which are used to emphasize scenes such as the deceased King’s entrances or the brutality of a knife stab.  

Some of the scenes became unnerving due to the excellent effects combined with the powerful acting.

However, the lighting also added to some funny moments, like when Hamlet conducts his own play-within-a-play to the chagrin of Claudius.

In addition, the costumes are an interesting twist, suggesting a 19th century setting, complete with realistic prop weapons adding to the tension of confrontations.

The National Players’ performance of “Hamlet” shows personal dedication to the wit and drama of Shakespeare in this tragic story.

The Players speak nearly every line with emphasis and character to flesh out the life of the classic playwright’s writing.

“Hamlet” at the Olney Theatre Center runs daily this week through Aug. 28, starting at 7:30 p.m. Seating is free.

Location: Root Theatre

Olney Theatre Center address: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road

Seat reservations available at www.olneytheatre.org

@ReeceKL

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