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Free Shakespeare in the Park - Review; An Unforgettable Evening of Theater

Our first review of Hamlet! Read the below by John C. Sulak at The Independent News!

"Last weekend the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival opened its 35th season with thr group's very first production of “Hamlet,” and, it was worth the wait. This modern version of the Bard's beloved play has something for everyone. Anybody who has already seen it over and over will be rewarded with fresh interpretations of the text and characters. Those watching “Hamlet” for the first time will have fun and be entertained. Everyone will experience an unforgetable evening of theater.

This is SF Shakes' 18th year in Pleasanton. Many veteran fans arrived early to get their favorite spots on the grass. But the familiar stage set-up has been reconfigured to include a narrow runway that goes out into the audience and provides some intimate moments and surprises. Nathanel Andalis, as the melancholy Dane himself, delivers his soliloquies in the midst of families on their blankets. Amador Valley Community Park itself seems to have been transported to Denmark.

Even with that new perspective is it possible to learn if Hamlet really is crazy or if he is faking it? Is anyone, including the ghost, speaking the truth? And, what exactly does “melancholy” mean? Fortunately Stephen Muterspaugh's direction, and the acting of his excellent cast, provide an opportunity for everyone watching to decide for themselves. Or not! It's possible to look at what's going on deep inside of Hamlet's mind, or else just join him and the others for the ride. The scenes move along quickly and smoothly, and if the deeper meanings aren't always clear the action is.

Thirty minutes before “Hamlet” officially begins there is a mini-play called “Hamleton,” written by SF Artistic Director Rebecca Ennals, that features some audience participation. It's a clever preview of how many characters in the main event are going to die and how many speeches are going to be given. “Hamleton” is a good way to get kids interested and make them feel welcome. It's also a reminder that along with the drama, mystery, psychology and dueling that “Hamlet” is justly famous for there will be some comedy and wonder.

Director Muterspaugh, who was onstage himself last year as King Leontes in “The Winter's Tale,” has found other ways to make the story more accessible. He has cast women in roles that were written for men, and changed their characters themselves from male to female. Kieran Beca is a gender fluid Ophelia that is a perfect fit for 2017 in the Bay Area. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, delightfully played by Melissa Quine and Radhika Rao, are on break from college and ready to party. In fact most of the younger characters are either coming back from school or on their way there. That's the way Shakespeare wrote it making it an appropropriate story to be seeing during summer vacation.

The summer weather, and sky, add to the beauty and spectacle of what is happening. The setting sun provides magical light for the first act. The stage lights are then perfectly blended in as the sky gets dark. Anyone seeing “Hamlet” on the 8th or 9th of July, will have a bright full moon above them for the lunacy of the entire second act.

The citizens of Pleasanton are lucky to have such a perfect outdoor location for a show, and to have the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival visiting every year to work in harmony with nature to speak some of the most amazing words ever written. They've been doing it for so long that it's easy to take them for granted, but for them to put on a show is quite a production. When it's over the stage, the lights, the sound system and everything else has to be packed up and moved on to the next town.

S.F. Shakes are carrying on a tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of the art of theater itself, when troupes of actors would travel around from place to place to tell stories. There's a group just like that in “Hamlet” called the Players. They perform a play within a play that is an important part of the plot. When they arrive in town everyone celebrates. Even Hamlet stops brooding long enough to talk to the Players about acting.

The arrival of the players in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival in the Park has once again given the citizens of Pleasanton, and anyone else considering making the trip to see them, cause to celebrate. There will be performances on Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 for the next two weekends. That's just four more chances to learn why, as Hamlet says at the end of the first act, “The play's the thing!”

Amador Valley Community Park, 4455 Black Avenue, Pleasanton: July 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. "

Nathaniel Andalis playing the title role, Hamlet.


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