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REVENGE SERVED INDIFFERENTLY: Mouths of Babes updates ‘Hamlet’ to the 21st century, endures ups and downs

Changing kings and queens to CEOs and kept women, Mouths of Babes uses a unique style to tell “Hamlet.”

When performing Shakespeare, the discussion always seems to pop up of whether to present the play in its traditional sense or go outside the box of thinking. Mouths of Babes (MoB) Theatre Company chooses the latter for “Hamlet”—now playing at DREAMS Garage, April 26-29. A timeless cautionary tale of revenge and the pitfalls of blind rage, director Trey Morehouse of MoB moves the show from its 15th century roots in the country of Denmark to the 21st century Denmark Corporation. Changing kings and queens to CEOs and kept women, along with corporate take-overs standing in the place of invading armies, it’s a unique style to tell “Hamlet.” However, it can make the action sterile when the story progresses into its chaotic ending.

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The audience is met with the cold wasteland of Denmark Corporation. Creating an unnerving “American Psycho”-esque feel, the solid white walls are staggered side by side to give the illusion of a cityscape. Designed by Maddison Eberle, it’s a cool visual. Throughout the show, images are projected upon the walls to show the hustle and bustle of the modern world, and present the viewer with computer code; it’s successful at times and downright confusing at others. Dressed with only desks and office chairs, the stage switches from board rooms to random offices, all the way into the lobby of the Demark Corporation. There’s an awesome use of doors smoothly disappearing into walls to heighten the sense of “being clean,” but really it’s covering all that’s rotten happening in Denmark. The set is simple but very successful.

Sadly, the production’s lighting design does the show no real favors. It creates harsh shadows across the cast’s faces. The costume design by Meagan Golden and Regina Grimes is simple, with characters covered in suits and ties. It plays well into the vibe the show carries. Choufani’s Claudius rocks some of the best suits on stage. The audience is given a solid visual cue to the grandiose way this usurper sees himself. It’s clear just from his attire that he is a god on high from his newly acquired kingdom.

Music composed by Justin Lacy and Henry Blanton, the soundscapes of this world perfectly play into its modern setting, but more so into the theme of overdependence on technology. Merging club techno music with a haunting air of horror-movie themes, it brings to mind the soundtrack of “Suspiria” and the music of Goblin. The tech aspects of the production, while hitting a few hiccups along the way, run smoothly and don’t hinder the players telling their story.

“Hamlet” is a play with roles actors dream to portray, from the moment they begin down the road of theatre arts. Some of the cast present gems of a performance; others come up empty-handed. Horatio (Savannah Dougherty), an employee of the Denmark Corporation, leads the audience into the world at the onset. Dougherty is very engaging and paces the show well, along with Vivian Long-Sires and Jeremy Weir (the Greek chorus and play-within-play players who present a fun soap opera to parallel the modern setting nicely). The real victims of Hamlet’s revenge are not his wanted target but the family of Polonius (Jamie Davenport, a stern but loving sitcom dad)—the king’s counselor and first of many to fall under Hamlet’s misdirected wrath.

Sadly, his children make out worse. Laertes (serviceably played by Trevor Tackett) and Ophelia (NaSwana Moon) both stand as mirrors to Hamlet. They live a life he could have been happy with: being loved and finding success. Yet, through revenge, the mirrors are shattered. Moon brings such a delicate beauty to Ophelia, as she is shielded from life. When faced with the strain of Hamlet’s gaslighting and the murder of her father, she finally snaps from reality. It’s truly tragic; her eyes tell such a story. She also brings a lovely singing voice to Ophelia’s lulls of madness.

Showing the number of faces treachery can take, Josh Browner (Rosencrantz) and John Williams (Guildenstern) revel in their roles as Hamlet’s “true friends.” Browner delivers a fantastic take on the fool archetype, and stakes claim to being one of the best character actors in Wilmington. Tony Choufani owns his role of usurper Claudius, and offers up a show-stealing performance of a villain with honest depth. Never once innocent but always justified in his actions, Choufani encapsulates the manipulative charm of Lex Luthor with the vicious calm of Walter White. It’s great work.

Then there’s Hamlet, the title of the very play—our character lynch pin. While I applaud the use of making Hamlet a female, the role feels too much like an aimless drifter rather than someone exacting revenge. Em Wilson drifts through it fine, but leaves no real impression. Playing out like a cover of a popular song, all the lyrics are certainly there, but none of the right notes are being hit. Draped in a punk-rock, “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”-like style, scenes play from blasé insanity to blasé cunning, and slingshot back to Hamlet’s lacking motives. Along with the uncertainty of blocking, it left me wanting.

Lupin Byers and Quentin Proulx show why they were brought in as mentor actors, and create engrossing characters out of Hamlet’s parents. They show different ways to be dead: one physical and the other metaphysical in a modern world.

“Hamlet” is a classic work that defines the theatre world; it has and will stand the test of time forever. The roles will be played and staged over and over again. That’s the magic of Shakespeare. The themes of his work can teach us important lessons, no matter how they’re presented. Every work of the Bard is an undertaking and MoB should be applauded for their vision. While it has some blemishes, others areas rise to cover them—the sign of any good production.

DETAILS:
Hamlet
April 26-29, 7:30 p.m.
Sun., 2 p.m.
DREAMS Garage
901 Fanning St.
Tickets: $5-$15
brownpapertickets.com

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