Hamlet at Jungle Theater

Paul Rutledge as Horatio (left) and Hugh Kennedy as Hamlet are up to their usual skullduggery

Paul Rutledge as Horatio (left) and Hugh Kennedy as Hamlet are up to their usual skullduggery

In a stunning first act of Hamlet at the Jungle Theater, the audience is drawn into a world of high technology and the ancient lusts and conflicts of humanity. Hamlet's father's ghost is seen as an apparition, haunting the empty hallways of the modern-day castle, on closed-circuit security cameras. Hamlet is a modern young man himself, not really believing these Ghost Hunters antics until he is face to face with his father's apparition. Even then, the conflict inside rips Hamlet in two and renders him unable to act, even when the evidence is set in front of his face.

Director Bain Boehlke uses the contemporary trappings to good effect throughout, as characters constantly check their cell phones, shoot video of the proceedings, or flip through the contents of their iPads at every turn. He also knows when to leave that aside and let the heart of Shakespeare's play come out, be it in Hamlet's self-doubt, Ophelia's madness, or Claudius's manipulation of everyone around him.

At the center of the storm lies young Hugh Kennedy, stepping into Hamlet's big shoes. He seems a bit uncertain at first, but interestingly enough, as Hamlet's self-doubt about his mission grows, Kennedy's confidence does as well, delving deeper and deeper into the character's bottomless well.

Bradley Greenwald gives a (typically) terrific performance as Claudius. The character is a man who makes grand decisions and takes massive, murderous actions with the simplest and slightest of gestures. Claudius is clearly controlling all of Denmark from his high-tech throne, and the only moment of weakness he shows comes when he is alone, making a heartfelt confession of all his sins.

The company goes from strength to strength, including solid performances from Michelle Barber as Gertrude; Doug Scholz-Carlson as Laertes, someone who doesn't pause in his revenge; and Gary Briggle as Polonius, who comes off more as a world-weary confidant trying to mark the best path for his children than as the doddering fool of many other performances. Erin Mae Johnson as poor Ophelia seems lost in her first scenes, but she makes a strong final impression, as her mad speech plays out at a gala reception at the Copenhagen Center for the Arts.

Boehlke's design is one of the real stars of the show. The mixture of massive columns, delicate glass walls, and high-tech trappings fits perfectly with the merging of modern sensibilities and primitive emotions and desires. The columns that dominate so much of the action oppress and eventually trap everyone, no matter how connected they are to the world beyond the borders of Elsinore.

The production does drag a bit in the middle, as the complications of the plot (and there is a lot of that here, even if Boehlke has trimmed it considerably) threaten to overwhelm the characters. It is all regained by the end with a brutal fight and Horatio's final words spoken to no one (the invaders are one of the plot trims) except the world at large. You can guess that there will be a blog post and status update to follow after the final curtain.

OVER THE PAST three years, Mixed Precipitation has merged theatrical, musical, and culinary delights in a harvest-season tour of community gardens and spaces throughout the Twin Cities. Alcina's Island: A Picnic Operetta manages to merge the music of Handel, traditional truck-stop country western, and a sampling menu that evokes both the American heartland and the Mediterranean setting of the original story.

Here, a long-haul trucker, Ruddy, is trapped by the mystical charms of truck-stop owner Alcina, who has populated her oasis with many an unwary traveler, now transformed into the flora and fauna of her "island." Once Ruddy is in her thrall, it is up to his young lover to save him and, eventually, free the rest of the souls trapped in the garden.

The mix of operatic moments and down-home country works remarkably well, and Scotty Reynolds's creation never feels like a Frankenstein's monster. It is aided by some terrific performances, led by Laura Hynes Smith as Alcina. She is able to add plenty of nuance to her performance, even when singing in a language most of us don't understand. (Though the handmade supertitles certainly help.)

The whole show has a delightful, homemade vibe to it, with simple details used to build the world, though the host garden does most of the work to bring the island to life. Chef Nick Schneider's dishes run a tasty gamut and add a nice bit of texture to the fun-filled afternoon. Through October 1. Various locations. $10-$20 suggested donation.  612.619.2112.