‘Hamlyn’ challenges pre-conceived notions of morality

Written by on February 18, 2015 in Featured - No comments
Who is looking out for 10-year-old Josemarie (in red) in “Hamlyn”? | Photo by Harry Bechkes.

Who is looking out for 10-year-old Josemarie (in red) in “Hamlyn”?
| Photo by Harry Bechkes.

If you feel your cynicism switch on upon the mention of topics like “the family unit,” a “life project,” “child protective agency” or even “human rights” (God help you), then the Fell’s Point Corner Theatre’s latest production, Juan Mayorga’s “Hamlyn,” will confirm your suspicions in the worst way.

At first, the two-hour play, directed by Barry Feinstein, seems to be taking the audience down a path well beaten by the “Law and Order” variety of network series: A young boy, precocious but from a struggling family, has apparently suffered terrible abuse at the hands of a person of wealth and relative power, a trusted friend and benefactor to the boy’s family.

But in “Hamlyn,” there is no ending scene where the red-haired detective, effortlessly cool in jeans and a blazer, removes his mirrored sunglasses and squints contemplatively toward the sunset, while he and the audience reflect on the tough but good and necessary work he has accomplished.

Feinstein, a retired speech pathologist, said that he had invited various health professionals to dress-rehearsal showings in the days leading up to last Saturday’s premier, and that they were surprised to admit that the answer to the question he had posed to them–“Who is blameless?”–was “nobody.”

In “Hamlyn,” named for the Medieval German town where the legendary Piper took the children from their parents, everyone has contributed to the sad plight of Josemarie, the boy whose only verbally-expressed desire is to not be “taken away.”

Judge Montero questions suspect Pablo Rivas. | Photo by Harry Bechkes.

Judge Montero questions suspect Pablo Rivas.
| Photo by Harry Bechkes.

It seems odd that Michael Zemarel, an unshaven adult, would portray the 10-year-old Josemarie. As throughout the play, another character–the Commentator–portrayed by Helenmary Ball, explains Mayorga’s intent in casting an adult to play a child:

“Children are a problem in theater,” the Commentator explains. “They can hardly ever act; then when they can act…the audience pays attention to how well the child acts.”

Regardless of whether or not this is true, Zemarel acts in such a way that the audience pays attention to Josemarie and not puppy-dog eyes or “I see dead people” moments.

As for the other characters in “Hamlyn,” Feinstein’s not-blameless, they fall into two categories–antagonists and enablers.

Jim Knost puts in a subtle performance as Pablo Rivas, ostensibly the main antagonist of the story, the man who apparently betrays a struggling family and preys on its most vulnerable member–according to circumstantial evidence and the certainty of Montero, the play’s “hero,” portrayed by Sammie L. Real iii.

As the play continues, the audience wonders how much Montero’s pursuit of evidence and a conviction has to do with Josemarie’s welfare. Montero seeks the help of a child psychologist, Raquel (Candice Fabian), and she gives him firm answers while the audience gets even more disquieting questions.

There are certain plays that an audience contemplates afterwards for hours and days. Hidden parallels surface well after the curtain has fallen. One character’s failures and biases mirror another’s, but under different circumstances. A hypocrisy unknown to the characters, and at first subtle to the audience, grows until it is glaring.

Montero, for example, gives his silent assent when Raquel dismisses Paco, Josemarie’s father, as a “textbook” example of a man “who thinks being a father is more about rights than responsibilities.”

But Karim Zelenka touchingly portrays a Paco who longs within his troubled life for his son’s tender company, while Montero’s pursuit of “justice” renders the detective unavailable to his own family, which is grappling with its own, lesser publicized problems.

Go watch “Hamlyn” and contemplate such uncomfortable paradoxes. The minimalist set, straightforward acting and gentle-handed direction leaves plenty of breathing room to do so.

“Hamlyn” plays through March 8 at the Fell’s Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Tickets and information are available at fpct.org.

By Erik Zygmont, Editor

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