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Outdoors in Chelsea, Apollinaire Theatre's 'Hamlet' taps into the community

May 29, 2023


There’s something fascinating about watching art unfold on city streets. Jousts, murders, and a love story cut short were carried out on the sidewalks and green spaces of Chelsea Square in front of Chelsea Theatre Works for Apollinaire Theatre Company’s immersive production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The fun, bilingual, roaming production in association with Teatro Chelsea and the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development (through Aug. 19) moves to several locations, including a pop-up beer garden, a nearby water fountain and the windows inside the first floor of Chelsea Theatre Works.

Traducido en español por El Planeta, Boston's Latino daily.

Fun isn’t typically used to describe the tragic tale of “Hamlet,” but amid director Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ fast-paced conception of Shakespeare's tragedy there is an adrenaline-filled rush as the audience physically follows the action in which fun and murder form a strange but organic coexistence.

The play was preceded by a pre-show that included more than a dozen acts where performers (some of whom are in the play) sang and rapped onstage to the crowd that sprawled from the BearMoose Brewery beer garden to nearby benches, curbs and grass.

Just after the pre-show ended, a very kingly procession occurred as onlookers crowded in to see the start of “Hamlet.” The ghost of Hamlet’s father (Paul Benford-Bruce), with smoke billowing from his neck, pushes Hamlet to kill his uncle, the new king responsible for the murder. As the title character, Armando Rivera, who is Teatro Chelsea's artistic director, is a much more lively “melancholy Dane” than most. Rivera and many of the other cast members delivered their lines in English and Spanish. Anna Riggins, a very affecting Ophelia, soulfully underlines the threat of the mayhem to her romance with Hamlet.

The engaging show — thought to be Shakespeare’s longest with 29,551 words — is a taut 90 minutes under the sharp direction of Fauteux Jacques, who also directed Apollinaire’s outdoor rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” in 2021 and, most recently, “Dance Nation.”

The intriguing cast (including Gertrude ably portrayed by Paola Ferrer who conveyed a world of emotion with just her facial expressions) participated in daring sword fights — with choreography by Audrey Johnson and fight direction by Matthew Dray — and poisonings in a production that made audiences gasp and laugh as they followed a roving speaker, part of a great sound team and production staff helping with wayfinding.

Watching the show and moving from place to place adds to this production’s action-packed allure, and a scene where Rivera’s Hamlet and Benford-Bruce’s ghost of the King of Denmark converse on the fountain in the cool blue light with the bridge to Boston behind them is lovely.

While this production was undoubtedly exciting, the best part was watching the crowd who danced together in the pre-show squeeze together on the street to watch Shakespeare on a warm summer night as cars slowed down to see what was happening. Presenting art for free that the community can enjoy together feels like it gets to the heart of the communal power of theater.

Apollinaire Theatre Company, Teatro Chelsea, and the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development’s production of “Hamlet” runs through Aug. 19.