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Davis, California

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Shakespeare’s Globe Brings Hamlet to Davis

I’m squirming in my seat in anticipation of one of my favorite exchanges in all of Hamlet — the scene where Hamlet greets his old friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. I pause to look around and observe the faces of my fellow audience members. Given that the lights are still on inside the theater in an effort to replicate the Globe Theater’s Shakespearean tradition of open-air performances, I can see everything going on around me: the elderly couple in front of me is enraptured by Michael Benz’s (Hamlet’s) beautiful, talented face. A few of the high school students across the aisle giggle to each other as they translate Shakespeare’s dirty jokes into modern English. My friend nudges me to turn around and pay attention.

“Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?” Hamlet queries his friends about their relationship with Fortune. “Faith, her privates we,” Guildenstern snickers conspiratorially. “In the secret parts of Fortune? Oh, most true. She is a strumpet!” Hamlet shouts, before he, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz begin dancing and bust out some pelvic thrusts worthy of the elevator scene in the “Gangnam Style” music video.
Trust me — if you had been in the audience with me, you wouldn’t have needed a “No Fear Shakespeare” SparkNotes translation of the script in order to find scenes like these — with their snippy little add-ins and provocative gestures — utterly hilarious.

Of course, Hamlet is largely known as a serious drama filled with madness, incest, royal intrigue and brooding university students suffering from extreme indecision,  but that didn’t stop the cast from adding in pithy little one-liners here and there (such as when Polonius wandered off set to find the “Memorial Union Bar” to find some strong aqua vitae) to liven the mood and steal a laugh from the audience when appropriate.

Every element of the production was pared down and streamlined in order to speed the production along to a brisk two-and-a-half hour running time. The minimalist wooden set resembled an overgrown treehouse — a whirling tornado of planks, curtains and benches that rearranged themselves ever so slightly to fit the mood of each different scene. While waiting for their cues, various actors would wait partially out of sight within the shadowy cubbies built into the interior of the set, singing softly and playing various instruments to accompany the action on stage. Each act seamlessly segued into the next, yet it was always clear to the audience what exactly was taking place.

This sense of extreme efficiency even extended to the cast; each actor, save for Benz, who played Hamlet, multi-tasked and inhabited several different characters. Benz’s performance, to my delight, not only captured the obsessive and maniacal elements of Hamlet’s character, but also provided the audience a sense of what the Prince of Denmark must have been like before his father was murdered and his life was turned upside down. These glimpses into Hamlet’s previous characterization were most evident in his interactions with his former friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz and his former flame Ophelia. The other actors also offered exceptional performances. Miranda Foster, who plays Queen Gertrude, among other roles, stole the show with her crudely hilarious performance as the queen in the play-within-a-play scene.

Carlyss Peer’s Ophelia was just as beautiful as she was tragic. In her final scene, she enchanted the entire audience with her sweetly sirenic voice as she wandered about the stage in the throes of a passionate fit of madness. At the end of the show, I was fortunate enough to have some time with Ms. Peer to talk a bit about the performance, the Globe’s world tour and her future plans as an actress. Although the Globe Theatre troupe left the Mondavi Center last Friday night, they will continue to perform in Southern California for the rest of November. If you know anyone in the area who would enjoy a quick, witty and streamlined rendition of Hamlet done in the traditional style of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theater, don’t get them to a nunnery ­— get them to their nearest theater!

Interview with Carlyss Peer:

The Aggie: How has the tour been going for you so far?

Carlyss Peer: It’s been absolutely amazing; we’ve had a wonderful time. We did three months in the UK before we started, and then we’ve come over to America in September, which has been amazing, and the reception over here has been great — everyone’s really enthusiastic, so we’ve been having a wonderful time. Here in Davis, we’ve been looked after particularly well. We’ve got wonderful food and lovely people so we’ve been having a great time; I wish we were here for longer.

Just out of curiosity, do you or the other cast members have any particular rituals like before you go on stage or after?

Well, not rituals per se, but I suppose everybody has their own warm-up. So people do different things to get into the zone, as you say. Vocal warm-ups are really important in particular in a place like this because it’s massive. About articulation and diction and all of that stuff — so, lots of connecting with your breath and warming up your mouth and all of that. Other than that — rituals, I don’t think so. I guess because with this production, we’re changing characters quite quickly. There’s not the world of the play as with that of putting on a plan. It’s not the same intense preparation if you were in a Presidium Arts theatre where you were only playing one character.

I’ve noticed this play is very different from a lot plays I’ve seen. For one thing, the lights were kept on in the theater, and that was very interesting for me because I’m used to seeing plays where it’s dark but the stage is lit up. How does that affect you and the other actors on stage — when you can see the audience just as well as they can see you?

I think it’s brilliant; it’s really fun — because when you’re acting in complete darkness, you have to pretend that there’s someone to talk to, but whereas with this, there’s people, there’s faces. I think particularly when you have a soliloquy or monologue, it becomes about communicating still, which is much nicer than just speaking to black. And I think it’s really nice because it becomes a collaborative experience that the audience generally feels a bit more involved and sit back in the same way, like “Oh, we can see everyone, and you can see us.” And it’s part of the story which I think is great and makes it a lot more fun for us. Because people’s reactions form how you do the next bit of the play. Because some people sort of squirm and other people are doing it with you. And you know, it’s very different, so I think it’s really good.

Yeah, your company did give us that warning in the beginning: “You can see us, just as well as we can see you.”

I think it’s unusual, but it’s really fun, and it’s in the manner of the Globe. Because obviously it’s an open air theatre in London so you can see everyone. There’s natural light and we’re sort of trying to take that with us on tour.

What are your future plans after Hamlet is finished touring?

Well, I hope to continue acting. I don’t really know what that would be, I guess. The tour is so intense. I’d love to work love to work at the Globe again. I’d love to do more theater. I’d love to do film. I’d love to do TV. I’d love to work in the U.S. again. I just want to keep acting, and keep doing this stuff that we do.

How’s it like traveling with such a small company?

It’s quite — what’s the word? Like a little family. Because you get to know everyone.

Have you worked with any of the actors previously?

I worked with Peter Brae, who plays Rosencrantz and Fortinbras [in addition to] doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier this year with the Globe. And we toured in the Middle East. We went to Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai, which was amazing too. So thank you, Globe, who traveled with us around the world this year. It was very cool; I liked it!

EMMA LUK can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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