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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Hapgood
Williamstown Theatre Festival


Kate Burton
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Understatement: Tom Stoppard's Hapgood, on Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage through July 21st, is not all that easy to follow—especially during its first hour. The second portion of this exceptionally well-directed and precisely enacted play is, particularly in comparison to the opening section, far more clarifying. Set in fall of 1987 in and about London, it is clever and a brain-tester for anyone attending. The production will not work for those experiencing mind fatigue.

A suspenseful story of international espionage and multiple agents, it stars longtime WTF mainstay Kate Burton as master spy Hapgood—also known as Mother. Someone (like a double agent) is passing secrets to Russians and she, working for her boss Blair (Reed Birney), investigates and probes and coaxes and prods. Burton's Hapgood never wavers and is steadfast, brilliantly cerebral, and able to hold her position(s) even as she is a lone woman surrounded by men. A driven woman, she presses forward.

Kerner (Jake Weber) is a Russian physicist who now works in England. We eventually discover that Hapgood and Kerner have more than a passing relationship. Weber produces an authentic Russian accent but the problem, at times, is that it is difficult to understand each word he is saying.

Euan Morton, as Ridley, is convincing and figuratively fast on his feet (could he be the double agent?) and when the second act opens, there is an effort to trap him. Wates (Victor Williams) is sometimes on the scene as an American who is attempting, like others, to find the spy.

It is a play featuring real or imagined twins, a pivotal computer disc, Hapgood's son Joe (Adam Langdon), a briefcase, towel ... and, of upmost importance, particle physics. Light can be perceived as a particle or a wave. Electron particles, too, do not have a consistent appearance. Here's a guess from one theater writer who lacks scientific expertise: quantum physics is challenging and puzzling. Throughout the many twists, turns, and ultimate surprises which mark Hapgood as unusual theater fare, it helps to have a basic understanding of physics. Note well: not everyone has even rudimentary knowledge of the field.

Director Evan Yionoulis's admirable specificity is on display from the moment the production begins. He and designers Christopher Barreca and Christopher Heilman have combined to create an ingenious set. Many attached changing locker compartments are utilized early on as the action occurs near a city swimming pool. All of the set pieces move about on wheels and, while percussive music (supplied by Mike Yionoulis) and sound delivery (Alex Neumann) fill the theater, actors slide everything along. Donald Holder's lighting is bright and glaring. Michael Krass's costuming is quite suitable.

It would not be fair to give much more away since Hapgood is, at its best, complex and stimulating. That said, it is very difficult to ascertain, during the initial act, all that goes on. The dialogue during the first portion sets the theatergoer up for what follows after a break.

Burton and acting colleagues never lose focus and maintain force, which is important since tension is ever on the increase. The cast members maintain pressure-point consistency throughout and this is impressive. Actor accents are excellent; the dialect and vocal Coach is Deborah Hecht. Stoppard allows for philosophical moments toward the end. Kerner says to Blair, "We are all covers, even you," and then Kerner speaks of meeting an opposite part of oneself. Hapgood, just before the stage goes dark, remarks: "Much better." That sums it up neatly.

Williamstown Theatre Festival presents Hapgood on the Nikos Stage in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through July 21st. For tickets, visit wtfestival.org or call (413) 597-3400.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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