“Hamlet” transcends original story to explore social media and mental health



Hamlet, played by senior Freddy Sell, delivers an emotional monologue during the BHS Drama Society’s 2019 production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” With a modern spin, the play explores the effects that revenge, betrayal and loss of love can have on one’s mental health in a 21st-century setting.

Unsheathing a pair of lightsabers in Google-esque headquarters, employees dressed in professional office clothing engage in a playful, yet skilled, fencing duel. This surprising moment of sudden excitement established that this rendition of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was speaking, even shouting, to young people in the audience. 

With this year’s Shakespeare production, the BHS Drama Society takes the age-old classic and places it into modern times. Instead of medieval castles and knights in armor, we have virtual reality technology and Instagram stories within the setting of the tech company, ELSNR. However, the emotions and stress of being a teenager still remains. Hamlet (senior Freddy Sell) grapples with the grief of his father’s passing after his mother Gertrude (senior Barbara Pires) too quickly remarries his uncle Claudius (senior Clay Baker-Lerner). With this, we see both Hamlet and the people around him suffer, including his sweet girlfriend Ophelia (junior Din Klein). This ultimately becomes the perfect set-up for a revenge plot riddled with murder, betrayal and even a workstation exercise bike.

However, more than anything, the cast’s ability to highlight the effects of familial vengeance and the rapid spiraling of one’s mental health in the face of treachery resonates with the viewer hours after the curtains close. 

Consistently delivering an outstanding and poignant performance exceeding all expectations, Sell artfully embodies what it means to fully take on the role of another person. Ranging from his contemplative “to be or not to be” soliloquy to his simple, yet endearing handshake with Horatio (sophomore Madhav Krishna), Sell emphasizes both the everyday complexities of being a teenager while also dealing with unconventional situations of murder and paranormality thrown into his path. 

In one particular scene, he draws us in further with a quiet but authentic moment. Shortly after he learns of Hamlet Sr.’s (junior Jack Reisman) death, a series of social media posts are projected onto the screen. Pictures and online stories are flooded with comments of sympathy and condolences, one after another in an almost overwhelming manner. Yet, amidst the online frenzy, we find Sell, adorned in all-black attire, isolated and tucked away in the wall, headphones in. Although he wasn’t the center of attention, this subtle moment of intimacy instantly connected us to moments when we have felt alone before. For the first of many times throughout the play, we found our own selves reflected in the story. Sell’s performance demonstrates that Hamlet is not just a one-dimensional, all-mighty protagonist – he is also human. 

Following these heavier scenes, Polonius (senior Noam Scully) brought about lively comic relief through his portrayal of the bumbling and self-unaware father figure of Ophelia and Laertes (senior Renata Shen). Acting as the bridge to reconcile Shakespeare’s older language with the modern setting, Scully garnered laughs during his “neither a borrower nor a lender be” etiquette lesson for his kids. Cleverly using a slideshow with Kim Kardashian as an example of what not to do, we were struck both by the sheer shock of seeing her on-screen, as well as by the critique of pop culture that today’s youth so revere. It was almost embarrassing, and consequently, humorous. 

With such comical scenes, the first half of the play keeps a serious, but still lighthearted tone. The second half following intermission, however, is when the show begins to escalate as characters take on more developed forms of their problems. 

Throughout much of the play, Ophelia remains relatively level-headed, usually only expressing strong emotions in the comfort of her own space, writing love poems in her notebook. We didn’t think much of this mundane and common hobby until it took a turn and became a place where her unhappiness festers. 

When Klein flips a switch upon reciting her monologue, we see her character transform into someone who lacks direction and doesn’t know how to cope with her troubles anymore. Her hair, messy and haphazardly decorated with flowers, parallels her very poems of roses and daisies. In her last moments on stage, Klein rips the pages out, several sheets at a time, and we clearly see the pain of loss in her face and the wavering of her speech. “I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all,” she says before she eventually runs off the stage, journal in hand. 

Her performance was a clear and harrowing display of an emotional and mental demise, as the once put-together love interest becomes an unrecognizably distressed and grieving individual. 

At the end, as the cast bowed and began to pour off of the stage, we truthfully didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We were moved by the range of emotions the cast unapologetically explored, with jokes and dark humor carefully weaved into heavier topics including suicide and vengeance. In one moment, Sell would be prancing around wearing a Yoda mask in a display of Hamlet’s crazed front, and in another, we could see Claudius begging Gertrude to put down her poison. The production delicately balances humor and tragedy only for us to realize that, to some degree, they are one and the same. 


Come see the final showing of “Hamlet” for yourself:

Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Robert-Dubbs Auditorium 

$5 for students, $10 for adults 

Free for 8th graders & staff members