August 10, 2011 — I hadn't been in the upper Connecticut Valley in many years and had forgotten much about it. When I decided to attend a play at Alumni Hall in Haverhill, New Hampshire, a two-hour drive, I figured I'd arrive in time to have a leisurely meal in a nice restaurant before going to the play. Restaurant? In Haverhill? Unknown! This is rolling farm country, pastoral but with few amenities. I couldn't even find a store where I could at least buy a loaf of bread and some sliced ham. I'm a skinny guy and I don't carry much in reserve, so I need to eat regularly. I finally found a restaurant across the river in Bradford, Vermont. Fortified, I returned to Haverhill.
Theatre Under the Stars, whose excellent productions I've been enjoying for years, staged their moveable show at Alumni Hall this evening, a spare, spacious but pleasant town hall-style theater, possibly one of the better indoor venues Under the Stars has had in recent years. They prefer to hold their performances outdoors, weather permitting. On this night, threatening clouds and a forecast for thunderstorms made indoors seem a more prudent decision. They were right. Just as the show started, there was a roar of thunder and rain began, somehow appropriate for Hamlet.
Played on a large, bare stage with a small wooden bench the only furnishing, this play tested the skills of director and actors who had to work with virtually no props, and they were more than up to the challenge. Fiery, impassioned, with beautifully choreographed sword fights, the play was a real audience-pleaser.
I'm not a professional critic — some may say I have no business criticizing at all — but I know what I like, and I liked every aspect of this production. I wish someone would tell me in what way was the great Laurence Olivier's studied Hamlet in the 1948 movie better than Under the Stars' Adam Hadas's intense, passionate Hamlet. Especially when you consider that in the movie, Olivier got to re-shoot a scene over and over until he got it right. I won't even mention Hadas in the same breath with Mel Gibson in the 1990 movie. That would be an insult to Hadas.
Founder and artistic director Donna Devlin was wonderful as always in the role of Gertrude. Executive Manager Will Hammond was satisfyingly villainous as Claudius, and doubled as Hamlet's father's ghost. All actors were superb, some playing multiple roles. With a surplus of female performers and a shortage of males this season, several roles had to be feminized, such as Horatio (Horatia), Laertes (Laerta) and Polonius (were they calling her Polonia? I didn't catch that). Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were girls. But it worked. Many Shakespeare characters are interchangeable gender-wise. I'm waiting for a female Hamlet some day. Donna is just the sort of risk-taker who might attempt this. "Hamlette," anyone?
Check out Theatre Under the Stars' entertaining website at this link: