Lisa Peterson

The guitar strings at midnight

Death-metal music amid a quiet coup shapes a "Hamlet" on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's outdoor stage

By SUZI STEFFEN

ASHLAND – Every production of Hamlet that theater fans see is strengthened by the one before it. Or maybe it’s complicated by the previous one – or is it just affected? Even non-Shakespeare fans or non-Hamlet addicts know many of the play’s words in snatches, in pieces of lines that we all say, not needing the origin story of “to sleep, perchance to dream” or “sweets to the sweet.”

Add in the past few decades of contemporary theater and digital narratives: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, I Hate Hamlet, Fortinbras, that “more ketchup!” scene from Grease II, The Lion King, the first seven episodes of the (deservedly legendary) Canadian show Slings and Arrows, not to mention a zombie Hamlet or two and the many movies of the play itself, and you’ve got cultural freight that looms around any major English-language production.

(Spoiler alert: Hamlet has a relatively high body count, which I’ll be discussing in the review, along with a few other plot points. If Hamlet’s plot is something you don’t want to know before you see the show, please wait until after you see it to read this.)

Hamlet (Danforth Comins) greets his friends Rosenkrantz (Dylan Paul) and Guildenstern (Cedric Lamar). Photo: Dale Robinette, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Hamlet (Danforth Comins) greets his friends Rosenkrantz (Dylan Paul) and Guildenstern (Cedric Lamar). Photo: Dale Robinette, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

At this year’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet, there’s an added challenge, common to summer Shakespeare festivals everywhere: Creating a meaningful, tight Hamlet in the airy beauty of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Hamlet is an intimate court play, a two-family tragedy that has an impact on an entire region. Director Lisa Peterson and sound designer/co-composer Paul James Prendergast deal with these questions, and the specific design options of the space, by employing a guitarist and musical collaborator to set what this year’s Hamlet, Danforth Comins, called “an aural soundscape” for the play.

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Skiing the mountain of Hamlet

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Danforth Comins talks about the Elizabethan Theatre, playing his third Danish prince, and this production’s aural soundscape

By SUZI STEFFEN

ASHLAND – If you’ve been to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at all in the past decade, you’ve likely seen Danforth Comins in a starring or other major role. From Orlando in As You Like It to Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well, from Mark Antony in Julius Caesar to Coriolanus in, well, Coriolanus, Comins has played many a Shakespearean role – and he utterly dominated the role of Brick in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as well, coincidentally in the same year that the last Hamlet ran at the festival.

This year, Comins, playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek, lays some hilarious hurt on boy-costumed Viola in Twelfth Night, where his dueling prowess is about as magnificent as hers. But he’s also playing the tortured Danish prince in an outdoor Hamlet, opening in the Elizabethan Theatre tonight: Friday, June 17. At some point among all of his fight rehearsals, scene-running and prep work for the Hamlet opening, Comins took the time for an interview with ArtsWatch. The edited Q&A is below.

Hamlet (Danforth Comins) confronts Gertrude (Robin Goodrin Nordli) about her marriage to his uncle, Claudius. Photo: Dale Robinette, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Hamlet (Danforth Comins) confronts Gertrude (Robin Goodrin Nordli) about her marriage to his uncle, Claudius. Photo: Dale Robinette, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Suzi Steffen: You’ve played many a Shakespeare role, including Benedick and Coriolanus and Bertram and Orlando and Mark Anthony. And this is your third time playing Hamlet, though your first time at the OSF. What’s different or special about playing Hamlet?

Danforth Comins: Hamlet stands apart from many of the other plays in the canon because of its cultural significance and impact over the centuries, Coriolanus, great as it is, isn’t done very often, and the protagonist is not a knight in shining armor by any stretch of the imagination. Hamlet has succeeded through the centuries, maybe because it grapples with death and the afterlife. Those are topics that still elude us as society and a culture to this day; we’re fascinated.

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