‘Hamlet’ Becomes an Immersive Experience in St. Louis
You can take the ghost out of the castle, but perhaps you can’t really take the castle out of the ghost. In this case, Elsinore seems more haunted than ever, by a love that might have been.
In “Hamlet: See What I See,” the Immersive Theatre Project has tweaked Shakespeare’s great revenge story into a powerful romantic tragedy presented in an exciting, immersive new format. Hamlet’s dead father is never actually seen, and (among other “cuts”) Ophelia’s father’s most foolish speeches virtually disappear. But the new angle shouldn’t come as too much of a shock: as most people know, Hamlet’s father is assassinated before the play begins, and Hamlet decides to act crazy (or is it really an act?). And the first thing Hamlet does is to break up with the sweetest girl in Denmark. Crazy, no?
It’s horrible to watch, as the gloomy Dane (a Benedict Cumberbatch-esque Brandon Alan Smith) dumps Ophelia (the touching Kelly Hummert) right there in front of us. Her face cracks in half while we just stand around, feeling awful for her. And somehow everything centers on that, thanks to director Melanie S. Armer, who edited this five-act tragedy down to two hours of what amounts to the Worst Break-Up Ever.
As audience members, you’re on your feet (or in your wheelchair, as the case may be) the whole time, but it flies by as you follow the actors from one scene to the next around this elegant ballroom with its blood-red dual staircases, just opposite a built-in drowning pool. Sight lines can be a problem every ten minutes or so, but you’ll see most of it one way or another.
And far from being gloomy, Smith finds great, flashy little moments in the title role, high-stepping his way down those dark red stairs or perching atop a wrought-iron railing above a concrete sidewalk in the dark on the way home from poor Ophelia’s graveside service. Her death is presaged by a blizzard of suicide notes, and we happened to be standing right by her watery bier as those little missives fluttered down like snowflakes from a wraparound balcony.
Before all that, her father and her brother each warn her not to trust someone beyond her station, and afterward the brother (a smoldering Christopher Tipp) must avenge her death. In this version of the famous play, it’s as much about Ophelia as it is about Hamlet; he’s just locked in a world (and a fate) of his own.
“Hamlet: See What I See” runs through November 18, at the Barnett on Washington. For more information visit theimmersivetheatreproject.com.
Featured photo by Michelle Storkan.