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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

February 16, 2023 Issue
PART 4 (February 12 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


Bold Casting, Imaginative Costuming, Dynamic
Staging, and Crisp Direction Make PlayMakers
Repertory Company's Hamlet a Triumph!

PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet stars Tia James as Prince Hamlet (photo by HuthPhoto)

With bold casting choices, imaginative costuming, stark and dynamic staging, and crisp direction, PlayMakers Repertory Company's Hamlet transcends William Shakespeare's timeless tale and creates a rendition that should resonate strongly with modern audiences. PRC producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch has taken the goings-on in Elsinore and drawn viewers into a well-paced onslaught of Shakespearean drama that is so present and prescient that it does not feel like its 2 hour 45 minute runtime.

Nothing lags, yet the actors still get plenty of time to explore many of the deeper themes present in this notoriously "emo" play. Grief, loss, injustice, familial love, betrayal, and gender roles are all on the table, set against a backdrop of intrigue, murder, and supernatural inspiration.

Let's start with Hamlet, played by an unrelenting Tia James in a gender swap that intriguingly imbues the Danish prince (yes, she's still a prince, although all of the characters utilize she/her pronouns) with more strength of character than traditional male presentations. This Hamlet doesn't wallow in despair or grief; she tackles it head-on without apology, unwavering. James is so grounded in her delivery that at no point does one feel Hamlet's descent into madness might be real; this prince knows exactly what she wants and she'll use whatever tactics will achieve her goals.

William Shakespeare's Hamlet at PlayMakers stars Sekou Laidlow as The Ghost and Tia James as Prince Hamlet (photo by HuthPhoto)

Kathryn Hunter-Williams is well-matched to her progeny as Gertrude, the ill-fated queen, with all the royal bearing that one could hope for. Sekou Laidlow is cleverly double-cast and, perhaps, plays better as The Ghost of Hamlet's late father than he does Hamlet's murderous and freshly-crowned uncle Claudius.

The cast is rounded out by a delightful Kira Cornell (who seized the opportunity to shine as Ophelia in a captivating understudy performance, subbing for Sanjana Taskar); Jeffrey Blair Cornell (whose turns as Polonius and The Gravedigger were both wonderfully maddening); Hayley Cartee (whose faithful Horatio brought tears to eyes by the end of show); and Rasool Jahan (whose indomitable and layered Laertes shone brightly in every scene she played). The ensemble was strong and evocative, with honorable mentions going to Adam Valentine and Heinley Gaspard for bringing out a side to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that surprised no one and catapulted this famous duo into modern relevance.

Kathryn Hunter-Willams and Sekou Laidlow star as Gertrude and Claudius in Hamlet at PlayMakers Rep (photo by HuthPhoto)

On the tech side, it's hard to know who to rave about first. The set (designed by Amber Meadows and Lawrence E. Moten III) loomed, with an industrial feel that one could not nail down to a particular time period, an effect carried throughout the production design. Indeed, vines and threads from costume pieces carried over into set pieces that offset the metallic-and-concrete aesthetic with an earthy connection.

The uneven design of the stage helped convey the sense that footing was never sure, which played well into the tumultuous natures of the characters and the chaotic unfolding of events. McKay Coble's rather brilliant costume design eschewed time period as well, capturing the regality of the main characters while incorporating asymmetry that played off the rugged staging.

The cast includes (from left) Sanjana Taskar as Ophelia, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Polonius, and Rasool Jahan as Laertes (photo by HuthPhoto)

Tyler Micoleau's lighting design faithfully pulled together all elements, pulling us into Hamlet's soliloquies, sending chills with ghostly lighting of the dreadful Ghost, and bathing fight scenes in a merciless wash of brilliance. As a cherry on the top, Peter Vitale not only composed the original music that played live throughout, but himself joined the cast on occasion as a Musician to become a real voice among the intricately woven characters.

Overall, this is a worthy contribution to the Bard's endless legacy, and should be considered a high water mark in PlayMakers Repertory Company's 2022-23 season.

Here (from left) are Adam Valentine as Rosencrantz, Tia James as Hamlet, and Heinley Gaspard as Guildenstern (photo by HuthPhoto)

William Shakespeare's HAMLET (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12 and 14-19 and Streamed Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 16-19), directed by Vivienne Benesch and starring Tia James as Hamlet, Sekou Laidlow as Claudius/The Ghost, Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Gertrude, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Polonius/Gravedigger, Sanjana Taskar as Ophelia, Rasool Jahan as Laertes, Hayley Cartee as Horatio, Heinley Gaspard as Guildenstern, Jamar Jones as Osric/Lucianus, Jeffrey Meanza as the Player King, Saleemah Sharpeas Marcellus, Thomas Nash Tetterton as Bernardo/Priest, Adam Valentine as Rosencrantz, and Peter Vitale as Musician, plus an Ensemble that includes Kira Cornell, Kenny Ortiz, and Grace Wissink (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill's Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art). TRAILER: DIGITAL PROGRAM: CREATIVE VISION SERIES PODCAST: PRC VIDEOS: 2022-23 SEASON: PRC NEWS RELEASE: THE PRESENTER:,,,,, and PRC BLOG: THE VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: HAMLET (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a five-act tragedy written circa 1599-1601):,,, and THE SCRIPT: STUDY GUIDE (Utah Shakespeare Festival): WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (Elizabethan and Jacobean playwright and poet, 1564-1616):,, and NOTE 1: There will be a post-show discussion after 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12th, show, starting at 4:45 p.m. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14th, show. NOTE 3: The show will stream Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 16-19. NOTE 4: The 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18th, show will be an open-captioned performance, with a "universal-access" live-caption unit, communicating dialog, stage directions, and sound effects. NOTE 5: On-site childcare, provided by Seed Art Share, will be available at the 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18th, show. NOTE 6: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19th, performance will be streamed for $25 per household. TICKETS: $20 and up ($10 students and youth), except $25 per household for Feb. 16-19 streaming performances, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor's Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review.


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