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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: One-person, 18-character ‘Hamlet’ phenomenal in Door County

Critic At Large

Door Shakespeare

Electrified poster for “Hamlet” near entrance of Door Shakespeare. (Warren Gerds)

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – One-person play performances dazzle – the daring, the dynamism and all the doggone memorization.

Among the notable bursts of such action in our region is happening right now.

Actor Ryan Schabach is having at 18 characters in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “To be or not to be,” “Alas, poor Yorick,” “Get thee to a nunnery,” “The lady doth protest too much,” “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it” – the whole shebang.

He is performing marvelously for Door Shakespeare outdoors at The Garden at Bjorklunden until Aug. 17. The run started Wednesday night in a preview performance.

Ryan Shabach. (Publicity photo)

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Door Shakespeare missed a year of live, in-person performances. This production in person certainly is LIVE.

Ryan Schabach has a handle on voicings, inflections, mannerisms, physicality, expressions, dialects, intensities, sensitivities and language of multiple personalities.

He has lean and hungry look, adding to a commanding aura in his quick-change feat. His sheer concentration is unbroken by chirping birds.

Ryan Schabach’s act isn’t entirely solo. Elaborate “dressings” abound. Collaborations come in music, sound effects, fog, lighting effects, scene changes and costuming trickery. Production meetings must have rained ideas. All those “little things” add up.

Performance space for “Hamlet.’ (Warren Gerds)

Director Michael Stebbins and Ryan Schabach team for myriad nuances in Shakespeare’s words, which are humankind’s foibles, desires and failings distilled. Much is said in little space. Blurs happen in complex scenes with knots of characters speaking one after another, but mostly the thrust is clear.

Ryan Schabach becomes a smorgasbord of personalities. For starters, Hamlet is a piece of work. This is Hamlet’s catalytic: His father was killed by his uncle, who swiftly schmoozed with his mother, who didn’t say no and put Mother’s Day off 400 years. Hamlet learns of the murder from meeting his dead father, or vision thereof. Shakespeare throws in a play-with-in-the-play in which the uncle’s deeds are played out in front of him, a visit to the grave of a beloved entertainer and swordplay and poisonings and double dealing and love gone wrong. Thick into the frazzle-dazzle, Hamlet speechifies the equivalent of “What the hey?” – “To be or not to be…” with its “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Among clever touches, Ryan Schabach athletically plays out a deadly duel, complete with “pouring” “blood.”

Another is a bit of add-in voice effect when Hamlet demands allegiance when insisting “Swear by my sword,” with the “Swear” ominously emphasized by echo.

My favorite character outside of Hamlet is Guildenstern as a kind of hippie flake. Awesome, man.

The main cleverness, of course, is Shakespeare, who at times can make a nutcase dark and funny in the same breath.

The adaptation by Guy Roberts is a combination of bravado and brains. Not many actors leap into this one-man “Hamlet,” mostly because very few are willing and fewer still are capable. Ryan Schabach is.

***

Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; adaptation – Guy Roberts; director/producing artistic director – Michael Stebbins; managing director – Amy Ensign; production stage manager – Kira Neighbors; costume designer – Latora Lezotte; properties master/scenic designer – Jody Sekas; lighting designer – Todd Mion; sound designer – Scott McKenna Campbell; assistant stage manager – Rayne Kleinofen; COVID safety officer – Jarrod Langwinski; videographer and video editor – Neil Brookshire

Cast:

Hamlet + 17 other characters – Ryan Schabach

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: To Aug. 17: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday-Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Streaming also is available. Info: doorshakespeare.com

***

THE VENUE: The Door Shakespeare theater space is outdoors at Bjorklunden, a 425-acre estate on the shore of Lake Michigan south of Baileys Harbor on the east side of Door County. The performance area is a limestone-lined patch of wood chips beneath a majestic, eye-catching 70-foot maple tree with shaggy bark. For “Hamlet,” all action happens on a build-up stage, a balcony and stairways on the tree. The seating configuration is on three platforms arcing around the performance space, with the normal seating capacity of about 160 is reduced for COVID-19 reasons. The theater is about a mile of winding road off of Highway 57. Bjorklunden is owned by Lawrence University of Appleton, though Door Shakespeare is a stand-alone entity.

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