Sea Change’s ‘Hamlet’ A Ghost Story for October (3.5 Stars)

Hamlet” Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Jason Schaum; Associate Artistic Director, Staci Skiles Schaum. Produced by Sea Change Theatre Company at The Dane Street Church, 10 Dane St. Beverly, MA. Performances through October 18th.

What better subject matter for the month of All Hallows’ Eve than a spooky ghost story? That is how Sea Change Theatre Company’s Director Jason Schaum describes Hamlet, one of the quintessential Shakespeare masterpieces: “People forget that it’s a ghost story,” he says. At the heart of it this is a ghost story as it opens with Hamlet being called to the castle wall by his friends to witness the unbelievable and recurring sight of his dead father, the once King of Denmark slowly walking in shrouds below the walls. Hamlet sets out to discover why his father’s spirit cannot rest and so starts the famous story of murder, madness and mayhem so famous throughout the world.

Even if you’re not a Shakespeare fanatic you may be more familiar with the plot than you know, since it has been “borrowed” and retold everywhere. From TV – as when Harold Hecuba (Phil Silvers) comes to Gilligan’s Island and the castaways put on a musical Hamlet – to movies like “Gallant Sons” from 1940 where “the kids” put on a play depicting a murder and then invite the suspected murderer to watch it, elements of this play have been appropriated throughout the entertainment industry for years. Part of the fun of seeing a play of this magnitude is hearing the now familiar lines that have entered popular parlance in their original context. Sayings like: “Alas poor Yoric…”; “Goodnight, Sweet Prince.”; “To thine ownself be true”; “Something rotten in…Denmark”.

Director Schaum has made the decision to not allow the darkness of the play to overwhelm the audience. Many of the players are allowed to have fun with their roles and it brings plenty of humor to a potentially grim story. Tim Waitkevitch as a handsy Polonius brings a wonderful combination of lechery and over the top delivery to the stage that left me wanting to see him in a comedy production, a la Zero Mostel in “A Funny Thing happened on the Way to the Forum”.

The standout performance and anchor of the show was Nathaniel Punches as Hamlet. He delivers his lines like he is living in the moment not reciting from a script, and that propels this production. His is a particularly challenging role as he seemingly descends into madness, flying about the stage and bounding from one character to the next with rapid-fire delivery of his lines. I hope to see more of him in local productions, but he has spent time in New York and London as well as Beverly, MA. I think we’d better just enjoy and appreciate his talent while he is here. It would not be surprising to see him move on to grander venues. Catch him here while you can!

This was opening night and the nervousness was palpable among the performers on stage, but once the lead players got rolling everyone else rose to the challenge and the play was the thing. There were some terrific performances from one of the largest ensembles ever at Sea Change, such as the always stalwart Rick Boomer (King Claudius) whose stage presence and well-paced delivery demands your attention in big, regal roles. Last year Mr. Boomer gave a similarly commanding performance on this very stage as Kreon in “Antigone”. Staci Skiles Schaum ably did double-duty as both Associate Artistic Director and Actor, where she seemed to embody the role of Gertrude, the devious yet stately mother of Hamlet. Emily Sheeran gives a moving and emotion-packed performance as Ophelia whose brother Laertes was played in honest, down-to-earth fashion by Ian Helmick. Tom Rash was solid as Horatio, as was the ubiquitous Stephen A. Turner as The Ghost, Abigail Dickson as a joyful Osric, Ally Rush as Voltamina and Matthew Recine (Marcellus) and Sean Crosley (Bernardo). More humor was brought to the fore by Nick Gould (who gave a few good chuckles with his physical comedy) and Christopher Donahue, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively.

This is the start of the 3rd season for Sea Change Theatre Company. The troupe seems to have matured and they’ve been able to add more professional touches like an improved lighting system, perhaps due to drawing more sponsors to the cause. It is indicative of their growing talent and ability that they kick off the new season with a weighty and well-known work such as Hamlet. One of the hallmarks of Sea Change is the love of theatre as evinced by the attention to detail and the well thought out artistic choices that do not distract, only add to the enjoyment of a night at the Dane Street stage. The costumes were simple but perfect in conveying the character’s roles, and small touches like the painted-on masks of the actors in the play-within-the-play were an ideal solution to the problem of separating the actors in the play “Hamlet” from the actors in Hamlet’s play. Chock up another satisfying evening of theatre to Jason, Staci and all the production staff and actors of Sea Change Theatre. For more info, go to: