The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 18, 2013

Get thee to Bethany: BLC performs 'Hamlet'

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — One day, audiences might not be so impressed to see Michael Lilienthal play the role of madman so convincingly.

After all, he is a second-year seminary student who, presumably, will some day be delivering his lines from a church altar rather than the stage at Bethany Lutheran College. But for now, his portrayal of the title character in Bethany’s production of “Hamlet” is one of intensely rendered artistic calculation.

“Hamlet has this grief mixed with hatred and a wanting for revenge,” said Lilienthal, a Bethany theater veteran who has previously appeared in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Tartuffe,” among others. “It’s a basis for hate.”

In a condensed, but otherwise largely faithful production of Shakespeare’s timeless drama, powerful explorations of madness and hysteria come to the fore.

With Lilienthal opposite Bethany senior Kristin Carr, the pair impart the so-called “closet scene” between Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude, with a physical and emotional vigor that very faintly summons some of the scene’s more licentious interpretations while firmly establishing the madness that has driven Hamlet to seek revenge.

Carr said she and Lilienthal acted the same scene during the second round of additions. Almost immediately, they found stage chemistry.

“As soon as we got done with that scene,” said Carr of their rehearsal performance, “I was like ‘Whoa.’”

As for the director, Peter Bloedel has worked in Bethany Lutheran College’s theater department for 20 years. He’s also an accomplished playwright with a variety of publishing credits, including “The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet” which has been performed more than 1,500 times around the world.

Yet, with all that experience, Bloedel has never directed a production of “Hamlet” until now.

“It’s been a blast so far,” he said.

For this production, Bloedel said he chose to locate the play in the 1920s or 1930s and envisioned “an angular world that is harsh, gritty and very industrial.” To that end, the stage is replete with steel bars and atmospheric lighting.

But Bloedel also said he worked hard to maintain the play’s sly and sardonic humor. For instance, Bloedel retained the gravedigger scene in which two commoners jest about Ophelia’s drowning while also synthesizing important themes of the play.

“With this cast, we have some moments of all-out laughter,” said Bloedel, who uniformly praised his cast and crew for their commitment to a production that demands excellence because of its familiarity to the audience. “It’s going to be a really good show. We’ve got strong actors across the board.”