You will not find a more impassioned version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet than the one Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company is currently offering at the Odyssey Theatre. And with the very real possibility that this may be the company’s final work comes the necessity of experiencing what these dedicated professionals have created while under the influence of Shakespeare’s words.
I had the good fortune to see Lisa Wolpe, who returns to Hamlet in the title role, when she played Richard III at Cal Poly Pomona in 2011. She is an actor who disappears into whatever character she portrays so completely that you forget the most obvious fact – she is a woman playing a man – and instead simply see the journey of a person. For Richard it was his calculated ascent to power; for Hamlet it is the unraveling of his mind in the quest for revenge.
Cross-gender casting was the norm in Shakespeare’s day and LAWSC employs it in reverse with women taking on all the parts in their productions. While Wolpe certainly leads the charge in how to skillfully accomplish the task, veterans like Cynthia Beckert and Kimberleigh Aarn are also ably suited for their roles as the hotheaded Laertes and steadfast Horatio, respectively. As Polonius, Natsuko Ohama finds an understated humor in the stately gentleman’s penchant of running on at the mouth, and Linda Bisesti’s Osric brings a chuckle every time he appears in his foolish hat and pencil mustache.
On the flip side; there’s a lot of acting going on by others who don’t trust that the text will do much of the work if only the actor will allow it to be so. Is passion necessary? Yes. But there are times it feels pushed over the limit, as though without displaying a trembling intensity or shouting we won’t understand how distraught an actor is. Oddly enough the swordplay, which should be full of passion, feels executed by the numbers – perhaps for the sake of safety (Beckert’s work the exception).
Don Llewellyn has created a rich Danish castle with beautiful detail and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes are magnificent. I was also struck by how Cricket S. Meyer’s sound design underscored Hamlet’s speeches in his moments in the garden. The innocence of quiet birds singing against Hamlet’s increasing disgust that his uncle now sleeps with his mother as king gives the scene a bitterly ironic edge.
If indeed Hamlet is to be the final LAWSC production in L.A. then you would be wise to experience it before the end of its run. Wolpe is one of the great stage actors of our generation who breathes life into Shakespeare’s words as though they were dredged from her own soul.
I marvel at the accomplishment.
Shakespeare in LA
Sept. 7 – Oct. 27, 2013
Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company
The Odyssey theatre
2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets: (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com
Produced by Lisa Wolpe and Ron Sossi
Directed by Lisa Wolpe and Natsuko Ohama
Associate Director and Choreographer: Cate Caplin
Assistant Director: Jennifer Sage Holmes
Fight Choreography: Scott Ashby