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Hamlet, Herndon High School, Herndon, Virginia, December 7, 2019

Elliot Baird

Lake Braddock Secondary School


Existential angst, bloody revenge plots, a ghostly apparition, and at the center of it all, a woman?  Herndon High School's innovative production of Hamlet played the classic title character as a female, providing a new take on the iconic story.


Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare, likely in the year 1600.  It was first performed by a company called the Chamberlain's Men, where it instantly gained popularity.  Since then, it has established itself as a literary classic, and has been adapted into multitudes of different settings and time periods.  Herndon's production chose to set it in the 1980s, while maintaining the setting of a medieval castle in Denmark. 


The story follows Hamlet, the Prince, or in this case, Princess of Denmark just after the death of her father, the King.  Her father's ghost appears to her to tell her he was murdered by his brother Claudius, who has now claimed the title of King and married Hamlet's mother.  Hamlet takes it upon herself to avenge her father, leading to plenty of bloodshed and her own spiral into insanity.


Hamlet is a notoriously difficult role, but Izzi Hollenbeck certainly stepped up to the challenge.  She used intense, believable physicality in the fight scenes that created a real sense of fear.  She also handled her long soliloquies with exceptional nuance and skill.  Each one showed a progression of emotion, especially as the character lost her grip on reality.


The show also featured a talented supporting cast.  Kate Grover's Polonius, also played female, provided energy and comedy that engaged audiences.  Gertrude, played by Ava Deutschman, skillfully portrayed the age and maternal instinct of her very believable character.  Emma Harris' Rosencrantz and Jess Melek's Guildenstern skillfully worked in tandem to create the twin effect of their characters.  Natalie Tubia as Ophelia used incredible physicality and control to render her scenes truly heartbreaking.  The cast of players worked in sync as a tight, funny ensemble.  It featured two impressively talented musicians who underscored the action, increasing intensity and emotion.


The set was designed by AJ Guidry, Jill Schmid, and David Wrigley.  The sprawling castle had two floors that created interesting levels for the actors.  It was decorated in incredible detail, with several beautiful paintings as well as flags, armor, and other things that sold it as a Medieval creation.  Lights, designed by Ronan Floyd and Zach Wemyss, did wonders to control mood, establish location, and dramatize deaths.  Esri Lowe and Juliet Morro's hair and makeup helped establish the 1980s theme.  Cecily Rood's publicity went above and beyond to bring audiences into seats.


Despite the play's famous line, "Frailty, thy name is woman," Herndon's production of Hamlet shows that women are much more than frail, capable of such things as leading a cast and crew through a truly chilling performance.

Jordan Hundley

Chantilly High School


Taking justice into one's own hands can be a dangerous game, engendering a never-ending cycle of vengeance and violence as "an eye for an eye" can never truly end until all the players are down. Herndon High School's powerful production of Shakespeare's legendary tragedy Hamlet tackled this moral issue, as there is something rotten in the state of Denmark....


William Shakespeare's Hamlet is among the most powerful and influential pieces of literature, ranking as his most performed piece as well as kindling several adaptations, including Disney's The Lion King. The tragedy follows the story of the young Prince of Denmark (or Princess, in Herndon High School's case), as she plots to avenge her father's death by slaying the very soul who committed the heinous murder, her uncle. However, her ambition slowly descends into madness as the collateral damage increases, triggering a host of unforeseen consequences.


Clocking in at a little under three hours, Herndon High School achieved the monstrous feat with grace and style, adding their own unique twist to the classic by setting the tragedy in the loud and vibrant counterculture environment of the 1980s. Overall, the cast was unquestionably committed to the Shakespearean art form as they rarely faltered in the language and were clearly able to delineate the intended meaning to the audience.


Playing the monumental role of Hamlet is no simple undertaking, and Izzi Hollenbeck triumphed with flying colors as her raw, emotional, and transformative performance captivated, and at times frightened, the audience, leaving her mark as a true tragic hero. Her obvious talent flourished as she depicted the fall to insanity in a haunting manner through unrestrained vocal and physical notions, especially in the chilling confrontation scene with Ophelia, played by Natalie Tubia. Contrasting Hamlet's vengeful motives, Tubia's passionate performance and unsettling, yet beautiful, singing allowed her to portray lunacy in a heartbreaking manner, formulating a near-perfect foil of Hamlet's character.


Alongside Hamlet was the supportive and kindhearted Horatio, played by Genaro Mejia, whose tender approach set him apart from the bloodthirsty chaos and enabled him to be the sole individual to live on, representing how sanity remains in the end. Furthermore, Polonius, played by Kate Grover, portrayed an exquisite protective mother with her distinctive character choices. Finally, the playful dynamic between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Emma Harris and Jess Melek, was a delight to watch on stage and permitted comedic relief in such a dismal tragedy.


Adding to some truly stellar performances were the impressive technical aspects. The phenomenal lighting by Ronan Floyd and Zach Wemyss served a multitude of purposes from setting the overall dreary tone, to instantaneously flashing red during a murder to highlight its immorality, to even presenting a fun multi-colored aura for the duel. Moreover, the sound, by Bridget Neely and Carlos Avelar, served to maintain the '80s theme with themed songs of that decade playing during the scene transitions, adding an eccentric flair. Finally, the outstanding set, designed by AJ Guidry, Jill Schmid, and David Wrigley, was the perfect setting for such a show with its multiple levels, intricate details, and use of the translucent screen for scenes that took place outside of the castle grounds.


Herndon High School's Hamlet was a poignant performance complete with solid acting and palatial technical aspects that opened the audience's eyes to the sincerity that it is truly a mad world out there.


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