MONMOUTH — The Valley Shakespeare Company tackles tragedy in this summer’s production of “Hamlet.”
“We’ve done all comedies so far,” said director David Janoviak. “I figure if we’re going to do a tragedy, we’ll start with the big one.”
Janoviak leads The Valley Shakespeare Company at Western Oregon University.
“Hamlet” is a dynamic, fast-paced revenge tragedy, he said.
“I think one of the reasons this play is so popular is most people can relate to the impulse for revenge — an eye for an eye,” Janoviak said. “I think that’s one of my main focuses on the show is this idea. Revenge is really primal.”
There is tension between primitive and modern in this show, he said.
The set combines towering stone columns against more modern craftsman-style elements.
“That’s also reflected in the costumes, with different earth tones verses the very modern colors and more tailored cuts,” he said.
In this production of Hamlet, a young woman is called home from university to find her life turned upside-down.
“I don’t know who said it, but you don’t just decide to do ‘Hamlet,’ you usually find a Hamlet and then you decide to do it,” Janoviak said.
“Hamlet” has been on Janoviak’s mind since the Valley Shakespeare Company at Western Oregon University was founded in 2015.
“There are only a few actors who can do it,” he said. “I guess I was thinking of the traditional male in the role. It wasn’t until, I think it was last summer, opening night of the last show, and I thought, wow Janelle (Rae) would be amazing in this.”
Rae earned a BFA in Acting with a minor in American Sign Language from WOU in 2017.
“(Rae) is just a very dynamic actress,” Janoviak said. “She has a lot of authenticity. A lot of raw talent, and she can access a range of emotions that a lot of actors can’t, and she’s very uninhibited, which I believe this role needs, and she can infuse it with a vain of humor that I think is really necessary to do this role well.”
Rae said it is exciting to take on the role.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a pressure to push yourself to do the best you possibly can in every different kind of circumstance,” Rae said. “To fully go through the range of human emotions and be able to be clear about that and to show the strong will of people, especially Hamlet, herself, in this production, and what she’s willing to do, what she’s gonna do.”
Rae has enjoyed working with former classmates on this production.
One of the goals of Valley Shakespeare was to give students and community members the chance to work with guest professionals, Janoviak said.
This year, there are four, he said — the most they’ve had for a single production.
“Janelle is a former student who has spent the last two years working, pretty much nonstop,” Janoviak said. “Stephen (Price), Lucy (Paschall) and Ted (deChatelet), who’s our resident professional,” he said. “(It) is difficult when you live out here to continue to get pro work and not have to commute to Portland or Eugene.”
DeChatelet plays the ghost.
“Doing the outdoor Shakespeare here is magic,” he said. “I cut my teeth back in the day, doing outdoor Shakespeare festivals when I was in grad school and whatnot. There’s just something magical about sitting outside, watching this 400-year-old play come to life. This year, especially, it’s really Janelle and the young kids that get to run and stretch their legs and do stuff. It’s very cool for me, as a professor here, who’s teaching these kids, to kind of step back and support and say, ‘Go, go do this.’ That’s the reward for this one.”
Paschall, who plays Gertrude, echoed deChatelet’s sentiment.
“I just really love any opportunity to do Shakespeare outside, and this is such a beautiful stage, and I feel really glad to work with these guys and work with David,” she said.
She’s impressed with the quality the students are bringing, she said.
“I’ve never been a guest professional at a university, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “They’re all really, really, really good. I think they have really good training here, obviously.”
Paschall also said she appreciates Janoviak’s take on her character.
“There are lots of different ways to do this play,” she said. “Lots of different ways to do the characters. There’s a self-destructive streak with this character, which I don’t think Gertrude always gets to have. It’s pretty fun to have it a bit more dark and meaty.”
Price, who plays Claudius, said it is a privilege to do this play.
“It’s the second Hamlet I’ve been a part of,” he said. “I could come back to it 10, 12 times and it would be — it’s kind of like dropping a pebble down a well. You throw it and you listen, but it never hits the bottom. There’s always more.”
See the show
Valley Shakespeare Company at Western Oregon University will perform “Hamlet”
When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday July 25, 26, 27 and 28; Thursday, Friday and Saturday Aug. 1, 2 and 3
Where: On the Leinwand outdoor stage outside of Rice Auditorium on the campus of Western Oregon University.
The show will feature lawn seating, so audience members are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs. The running time of the show is approximately 2 hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
The Friday performances will be interpreted.