Prince Hamlet (Dillon Porter) and Ophelia (Rosaletta Curry) start the evening together in Port Townsend. Things soon grow complicated in Key City Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Prince Hamlet (Dillon Porter) and Ophelia (Rosaletta Curry) start the evening together in Port Townsend. Things soon grow complicated in Key City Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Vikings coming to PT waterfront with ‘Hamlet’

PORT TOWNSEND — Chetzemoka Park, named for the Klallam chief of the 1800s, is a place of towering evergreens and great blue herons. Come summer, it’s a spot for Shakespeare. And Vikings.

Key City Public Theatre, in its annual Shakespeare in the Park production, today opens “Hamlet,” the Prince of Denmark’s saga — this time set in the Viking Age replete with Norse gods, ghosts and a live cellist. Camp chairs, too.

Playgoers are invited to bring their chairs along with blankets and picnics for these performances, which run four weekends in the park overlooking Port Townsend Bay.

You’ve never experienced a “Hamlet” like this one, promises Dillon Porter, the man with the title role. Theater lovers around here have seen him play Garth the Norwegian in Key City’s “Wolf at the Door” and Tom the dangerous lover in “Murder Ballad;” this time he’s the Danish would-be king who might be mad.

“Strengthen your sinews, and bring yourself forth,” said Porter, who has no trouble finding parallels between Shakespeare’s tale and contemporary America. The play, which Key City calls “the Big One,” is about deception, corruption, love and truth.

“It’s also a thrilling journey to go on,” said Rosaletta Curry, who plays the prince’s love interest, Ophelia.

In this setting, Ophelia is a powerful woman, a Viking shield maiden. She “loves very deeply and loyally. She thinks of others before herself,” Curry added; “it’s an incredible, intense and rewarding journey to play her.”

Marc Weinblatt of Port Townsend’s Mandala Center for Change is the director of the large cast, including Lawrie Driscoll as Ophelia’s father, Polonius; Sam Cavallaro is the Gravedigger; Christa Holbrook as Marcella; David Traylor as Laertes and Brendan Chambers as Horatio. Ciel Pope and Caleb Lumbard are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, respectively.

For Crystal Eisele, who plays the prince’s mother Gertrude, “Hamlet” is, among the other things, an exploration of relationships and the struggle to connect. She seeks to portray Gertrude’s passionate nature, along with her desire to understand her son. It’s one of Eisele favorite plays, and she said watching it unfold at Chetzemoka — sword fights, kissing, comic bits and all — is an experience both communal and cathartic.

“A play is never really alive until it has an audience,” Eisele said. Witnessing it alongside your neighbors is a knockout.

Brace Evans plays King Claudius, whom he sees as a man not only of strength and resolve, but also love and compassion.

“As an actor, it is about finding the character’s truth as part of myself,” he said. “I didn’t know I was ready to play this role. But I was ready to explore and perform more Shakespeare. It was an opportunity to test my capacity.”

Oh yes, the bard can intimidate us, Evans acknowledged, especially if it’s the first time.

His advice: “Grab a lawn chair and come out to the park to hear the trees rustle in the wind or waves roll up to the shore.” Before you know it, you’ll catch the thrill that is Shakespeare’s poetry.

“There is no test afterward,” Curry added.

The director, meanwhile, is determined to make the show accessible to everybody who passes through Chetzemoka’s gate.

“If we are doing our job right, anyone can understand Shakespeare,” Weinblatt said.

“Like a fine horse, truly great poetry needs a great rider to show its greatness.

“I believe our extraordinary cast rides this poetry with the heightened skill necessary.

“Plus we have added pageantry: puppets, music … My 5-year-old son Darius loves it, begging to come to rehearsal every day.”

Hamlet details

PORT TOWNSEND — Key City Public Theatre will present “Hamlet,” written by William Shakespeare, directed and adapted by Marc Weinblatt.

• At Chetzemoka Park, 900 Jackson Street at Blaine Street in Port Townsend.

• Performances are at 6 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 26.

• The stage area opens at 5:30 p.m. Patrons bring their own beach chairs, camp chairs and blankets. Extra layers of clothing are recommended as it gets chilly near twilight.

• At the gate, admission is pay-what-you-wish, cash or check only. For advance tickets — at the full suggested donation of $29 — with a credit card, visit www.KeyCityPublicTheatre.org or stop by the theater box office, 419 Washington St., between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

• Picnics are welcome at the park, and hot dogs, popcorn and beverages are available for purchase.

• Golf-cart transportation from the main gate to the stage at the bottom of the hill is ready for those who need a lift. The cart runs from 5:15 p.m. till 6 p.m., as well as to the restrooms during intermission and to the gate after the show.

For information, call 360-385-KCPT or visit the website.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

King Claudius (Brace Evans), center, and Polonius (Lawrie Driscoll) arrive in Port Townsend’s Chetzemoka Park for “Hamlet.” (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

King Claudius (Brace Evans), center, and Polonius (Lawrie Driscoll) arrive in Port Townsend’s Chetzemoka Park for “Hamlet.” (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

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