The Column Online



by William Shakespeare, edited text

The Basement

Directed by Jeff Swearingen
Set Design - Joseph Cummings
Lighting Design - Cheyney Coles
Fight Choreography - Mike McCormick
Underscore Music by Hans Zimmer


Chris Rodenbaugh - Hamlet
Doak Campbell Rapp - Claudius
Madeleine Norton - Gertrude
Taylor Donnelson - Ophelia
Cal Simpson - Laertes
Josh LeBlanc - Polonius
David Allen Norton - Ghost of Hamlet's Father/Fortinbras
Kennedy Waterman - Rosencrantz
Jaxon Beeson - Guildenstern
Mollie-Claire Matthews - Horatio
Marisa Mendoza - Gravedigger/Player King/Attendant
Mia Herber - Gravedigger
Jeremy LeBlanc - Marcellus/Lucianus/Attendant/Priest
Elizabeth Minchey - Barnardo/Player Queen/Attendant
Andy Stratton - Lead Player/Attendant
Alexander Duva - Osric
Tess Cutillo - Voltemand/Player/Attendant
Emily Bulloch - Player/Attendant

Reviewed Performance: 2/23/2013

Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is easily one of the more difficult plays to "get right". We've all seen the title role performed as either morbidly depressive or wildly insane to the hilt. The delicate balance between grief and rage can be a hard one to interpret so that the audience will understand and have sympathy for the wronged prince. Having seen many a Hamlet production, amateur and professional, I was more than intrigued to see one performed entirely by youth.

Fun House Theatre and Film's presentation has actors ranging from 10 to 17 years of age, performing most all of the play's characters and pretty much its entirety. A hefty task for the most experienced actors, the cast did the Bard proud. Playing on a small proscenium stage, they took on the enormity of the work, with its many scenes and changes of mood, like the young professionals they are.

Even on a small stage, the necessity of intimate scenes is important, and the stage has built-in triangular platform wings on tracks to move out for larger crowd scenes, and then close in for duet scenes or soliloquies. Set pieces were rehearsal cubes or angled ramps for the most part, painted red and black or left off-white. Three panels were set upstage, two being opaque to allow light and shadow through, and the center panel used for a projection screen. And while the stage crew did a great job moving the pieces around swiftly and accurately for each scene, each change disrupted the flow and build, and the play might have been better served with stationary pieces or no set at all. Props were minimal - a dagger, a goblet, a wine decanter. Lighting had its problems, both in design and execution.

Designer Cheyney Coles used unfiltered, stark lighting for the general scenes, leaving the actors in a yellowish tint throughout much of the play. One block of instruments, filtered "Wicked green", was used only once for the Ghost of Hamlet's Father, and red spotlighted all the killings, as there are several in Hamlet. It was a mistake, however, to have so many of the actors, staged far stage right and left, in complete darkness. Many of the more important scenes in the play were blocked on either side, and the audience never had the chance to see the characters' facial expressions or actions at such critical moments. I started to watch the lighting instruments to see why that would be, and noticed several were never used. Even with a small lighting plot, it was a disservice to the actors to not have their hard work visible. On the afternoon I reviewed the play, there were also many cue mistakes. I did note that flashing of lights was to reflect mood and drama, but the several on, then off, then on again miscues gradually became annoying.

Costuming for Hamlet was appropriate, with a blend of Elizabethian-esque pulled stock and contemporary clothing. Women's gowns were long and flowing, men's suits had added medals or sashes to denote class status, and many wore blousy tunics of the time period. The King's Players had the most colorful costumes, being traveling actors, with patterned tops and tights. Queen Gertrude's two gowns were beautiful and well-fit to the actress, while Ophelia's white frock was simple and loose, befitting her more demure nature. Hamlet wore black tuxedo pants, and simple contemporary black shirt and shoes. In some of his scenes, he completely disappeared into the shadows. In a turn of gender roles, as Shakespeare's women were played by men, for this production, Director Jeff Swearingen cast many young ladies to portray the male roles. For the most part it worked very well. But the wigs used to hide the girls' long hair were the most visually distracting part of the entire production. Badly styled and ill-fit, they made their heads look much larger than normal, making it hard to concentrate on the acting rather than their hair.

One of the two highlights in this production, technically, was the projected slides of classical artwork from varied artists, depicting their vision of scenes from Hamlet. Each came into view as that part of the play began, and made a more visual understanding of what was transpiring onstage.

The paintings also educated us as to Shakespeare's enormous influence on artists of all time periods. The other technical highlight was with the musical scores, by Hans Zimmer, selected to underscore most all of the play. Ranging from bold operatic choral numbers to delicate classical violin solos to roaring, action film-style work, I sometimes thought the chorus from Carmina Burana or a robotic Transformer was about to enter. Highly effective in conveying the emotional intent of the scenes, the music lent that necessary lift to the play to make it exciting to the audience, especially in these days of highly charged films and video games.

Director Swearingen decided to present Hamlet for his audiences, and cast each person accordingly. To have such a youthful group of actors perform this daunting of a play took a lot of guts and a huge leap of faith. I believe he and his troupe succeeded admirably, and in a few case, amazingly. And I know he will be the first to recognize that any review should emphasize both the good and not so good aspects of any performance, not matter the actors' age range. In this production of Hamlet, I saw some wonderful work, and some that needed more rehearsal or experience. With a cast of eighteen, playing thirty roles, there was little to no time for clothing changes, so they stayed mainly in one costume. Therefore, those with multiple parts had the necessity to become a different character, and in some cases that simply did not work.

Attendants became priest or players or gravediggers with little or no visual or audile discernment. Both Claudius and Laertes, performed by Doak Campbell Rapp and Cal Simpson respectively, were played on a one note level of intensity, when both characters go through a myriad of ranges in the play. Dear Ophelia, as performed by Taylor Donnelson, is quiet and obedient to both her father and Hamlet in the first three acts. Donnelson's performance reflected that perfectly. However, by Act IV, Ophelia has gone quite mad after being rebuked by Hamlet and with the death of her father. Here, Donnelson faltered, as she stayed with her demure ways, and her singing and passing out of flowers and herbs could hardly be heard. A change of emotion between both sides of Ophelia is important to the role and was not utilized here.

The duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as played by Kennedy Waterman (female) and Jaxon Beeson, made a great pair, the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of Shakespeare's characters. Both had good diction, spoke loudly and well, and had a good understanding of their characters. Mollie-Claire Matthews took on the role of Horatio most impressively. She had good stage presence, also spoke well, and one felt the character's care for and true friendship with Hamlet. Equally as impressive was Josh LeBlanc as Polonius, father to both Laertes and Ophelia. He, as well as Hamlet, had a natural rhythm to their words and, thankfully, none of the actors in the play reflected the often used over-emoting with their lines. About 45 minutes into the play, Leblanc loosened into a more contemporary gate with his rhythm, and he was having as much fun onstage as the audience was in watching and listening to him. He found the humor in Hamlet and used it to full advantage.

Chris Rodenbaugh, at age 15, was given the honor, and challenge, of portraying Hamlet. Older, more experienced men have shied from recreating this role, but Rodenbaugh took hold of all the many levels of the Danish prince and made it his own. A beautiful speaking voice, he echoed the words throughout the theatre. He was the only actor onstage to attempt a more British, well-bred style of speech, and it worked well with the massive amount of lines he delivered. His monologues and soliloquy were well-rehearsed and nicely done. However, there were so many times when his conversational lines were so rushed as to be completely unintelligible, as were several other characters' lines. There were times, also, when Rodenbaugh used the upper decibels of his voice to denote anger and frustration, which was more jarring to the ears than effective. More acting experience will help him know that, sometimes, less is more in those high emotion moments, and that yelling at the top of your voice only wears it out.

The problems with rushed lines and hurried changes of scenes has a lot to do with the script and the avoidance of using sharper scissors to cut the script to a more tolerable size, both for the actors and the audience. There were several scenes that could be shortened, such as the Players' performance of Hamlet's play to Claudius and Gertrude, and it would help tremendously to not have the actors plummet through lines to keep the running time down. With two intermissions, it still ran over 2 1/2 hours, and several of audience were squirming and leaning on each other or the seat backs to stay alert. A condensed script would have done wonders for an otherwise well-performed production.

Fun House Theatre and Film is presenting a worthy production of Hamlet, with several solid performances, and two exceptional ones. Being the future actors of theatre in our area and beyond, it is important to support their endeavors. I think most will be pleased and impressed with these actors' endeavors, and will find Hamlet worth the experience.

Fun House Theatre and Film at Plano Children's Theatre
1301 Custer Road, Ste. 706 (Albertson shopping center, behind Tuesday Morning) Plano, TX 75075

Plays only one more weekend, through March 3rd
Thursday-Friday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm and 7:30pm.
Apparently no Saturday performances.

Tickets are $8.00 regular and $4.00 for students/children.

Purchase tickets online at
You may also call them at 214-564-5015 or email at for information and the play and their classes.

Be advised: Small children may have difficulty with over 2 1/2 hour performance time.