The fireflies are out in Connecticut. They appear each summer just as the Tiger Lilies bloom and the Hydrangeas pop. Amidst these annual seasonal highlights, Shakespeare on the Sound presents a play on the banks of the Five Mile River in Rowayton, the quintessential New England coastal town. This year, arguably the most celebrated of all Shakespeare’s plays: Hamlet.
You’re probably familiar with the basic premise of this play: the ghost of Hamlet’s father visits Elsinore Castle in Denmark to encourage Hamlet to enact revenge on Claudius, the murderous uncle who swiftly married Gertrude, the queen. While Hamlet struggles over whether or not he is morally able to perpetuate the violence necessary for retribution, he also struggles with his love for Ophelia and his trust of his closest friends and advisors. Along with the perpetually quoted “To be or not to be” speech, the play also boasts a plethora of Shakespeare’s astute insights on human nature and how to live:
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”
“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain”
“Our wills and fates do so contrary run.”
Artistic Director Claire Shannon Kelly has made many wise choices here: most importantly, she has cast a twenty-year-old to play Hamlet, which keeps the leading role fresh, credible and driven with the kind of earnest energy that only seems imaginable from someone at this phase of life. The rest of the cast is equally as strong – approaching their respective roles with nuance and depth clearly supplied by Kelly’s direction. Hamlet’s father is not the only ghostly presence to appear on stage. As each major character grapples with some sort of existential breakdown, the industrial set, music, and blocking all contribute to the innovative and insightful way this classic play is presented. Kelly has set the production in the early 1950s, post WWII, to reflect the precarious yet hopeful sentiment felt during this time period.
Shakespeare on the Sound has presented a number of unforgettable plays over its twenty-one year run, but in many ways these prior productions now feel somewhat like a warm-up to this season. It helps that the weather has been idyllic, that the sunsets on the Five Mile Rive harbor remind us that this Elysium can still exist year after year despite the noises that become louder elsewhere. That it is here for the taking. All we need to do is show up, take our seats, and lend our ears.