Left to right: Claudius (John Aney), Hamlet (Isabella Buckner), and Gertrude (Tamara Sorelli)
Left to right: Claudius (John Aney), Hamlet (Isabella Buckner), and Gertrude (Tamara Sorelli) Myrrh Larsen

Lake House Hamlet owes a fair bit of conceptual debt to New York's infamous Sleep No More: an open-ended adaptation of Macbeth where audience-members wander through the rooms of a speakeasy warehouse, encountering intertwining aspects of the bard's Scottish Play. Portland production company Speculative Drama's attempt to reconstitute Shakespeare's other heavy hitter within the limited confines of a SE Portland home isn't on the same scale, in terms of high concept audacity or square footage, but it's still an engaging and unusual night of theater, anchored by strong performances from a nimble cast but marred by some nagging technical constraints.

Due to the stage of this production being a pleasant inner SE home—with a large skeleton staircase that features prominently in the narrative—travel to this theater is more complicated than usual. Ticket holders receive directions to a meet up spot and are "ferried" to the final location. The rules, enumerated on the walk over, are pretty straightforward: no shoes in the house, no opening closed doors, no touching the actors. There are theater-appropriate drinks in the kitchen and danishes (ha!) on the dining room table. But in all other respects the play's setting is a nice, eclectically furnished Portland home, and that represents a significant missed opportunity.

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I particularly liked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Katie Mortemore and Jonathan Miles) re-imagined as touristy Bonobos-clad twits.


But first the good, which thankfully includes both the play and its players. Hamlet is well suited to a domestic makeover, as it is an upper-crust familial squabble taken a bit too far. Hamlet (played by Isabella Buckner) is a twitchy goon rather than an emo dreamboat—an interpretation I respect. The show's costuming is understated, sometimes to the point of invisibility, but I particularly liked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Katie Mortemore and Jonathan Miles) re-imagined as touristy Bonobos-clad twits.

What didn't work was the staging, or conspicuous lack thereof. Lake House Hamlet has no set dressing beyond some pre-filmed segments—that didn't work very well—and no props to manipulate other than the (admittedly tasty) danishes. The bric-a-brac belonging to whomever actually lived in the house breaks the immersive experience, to the unfortunate detriment of the talented cast. While I like the idea of exploring the periphery of a Shakespeare play, to do so at this particular show meant abandoning the central action. It's a credit to the actors that I never felt like straying off the beaten path.

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