November 2007

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Off The Wall Theatre, in it's eighth season in its tiny store front theatre on Wells Street presented its most ambitious production yet, a fast paced, thrilling, intimate version of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Based on Mathew Warchus, 1997 cutting for the Royal Shakespeare Company, this Hamlet focused on the domestic drama, realigning some scenes, using contemporary settings and dress to transform the play's political  and existential context  into a tightly focused, cinematic-like revenge drama. Director Dale Gutzman chose this cutting in an effort to spur the audience  to rethink this most remarkable 400 year old play. He hoped to cause the audience to re-hear the famous lines and speeches as if for the fist time. Die-hard Shakespeare fans hopefully saw and heared things in new ways, and young people new to Shakespeare hopefully were thrilled by the pace and intensity of this two hour and fifteen minute version.

Gutzman has had the privilege of directing Hamlet twice before, once with British actor Mark Rylance in the leading role, when he was still a student of Gutzman's.

For this production, Off The Wall Theatre collected a cast of some of Milwaukee's finest actors and actresses.  Playing Hamlet was Jeremy Welter, who starred in "A Clockwork Orange" in 2006 at the same theatre. Jeremy has played a huge variety of roles with Off the Wall. As his mother Gertrude, Gutzman  chose his long time friend and one of the city's most talented performers, Marilyn White. King Claudius was played by newcomer to Milwaukee, Ben George. Mr. George has acted in England, France and Belgium. Off the Wall is the first stage in the area on which he has appeared. As Polonius, Milwaukee favorite David Flores brought extensive knowledge of Shakespearian verse and style to the role. In 2006 he played Richard III for Off the Wall.  And in a particularly exciting casting coup, Gutzman acquired the services of International Opera Star Kurt Ollman to play the role of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father. Mr. Ollman has performed and recorded with the biggest stars of the Opera and Broadway stage, and has himself an extensive list of recordings on the market. His connections to Gutzman go back twenty years, and over lunch he agreed to join Off the Wall as an actor. Also in the cast were Liz Mistile, Lawrence Lukasavage, Karl Miller, and many other fine local actors. 

Once again the entire tiny Off the Wall space was transformed. This time the audience entered through the set comprised of natural colored wooden paneling and flooring. A large transparent curtain, four plush chairs, and an attic filled with theatrical props and masks completed the set. 

Gutzman said of this production of Hamlet, "This is truly a show for everyone! People who demand that their Shakespeare be done in a certain way, are usually those who know the least about the Bard or how his works were staged in his own time. Our intense, "in your face" production will probably be closer to pure Shakespeare than anything seen in this area for quite some time." He added that it might be interesting and fun to compare this staging of the play with the Ballet being performed at the very same time by the Milwaukee Ballet. Two unique looks at the most popular play in the world!