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"To Thine Own Self Be True"

Gordon Adams

Gordon Adams as Polonius and Chris Genebach as Hamlet (Photo courtesy: Laura Rehbehn)

Why would a defense budget expert venture from Washington’s political theater to appear on its theatrical arts stage? For SIS professor Gordon Adams, who served as the senior White House budget official for national security in the Clinton administration, it’s an outlet for creative, right-brain work. “It brings balance to my life,” he said.

Adams straddled both theater worlds for several weeks this summer, watching the Budget Control Act drama unfold on Capitol Hill and also taking to the theatrical stage – literally – as an actor in We Happy Few’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He played Polonius, Bernardo, Player King and Priest during the Capital Fringe Festival.

The adaptation of Hamlet, which ran 90 minutes per Capital Fringe Festival rules, explored the idea of whether Hamlet was imagining everything around him.

“This is Hamlet like you’ve never seen it,” Adams said. “The conceit of the play is that this entire series of events – King Hamlet’s death, the remarriage of Hamlet’s mother to King Claudius, the murder of Polonius, the death of Ophelia, and ultimately the death of Laertes, Claudius and Queen Gertrude, are possibly all in Hamlet’s mind.”

Adams said he saw similarities between Hamlet and Washington, D.C. “Washington politics are figuratively bloody; Hamlet lets it all bleed on stage, where eight people actually die.”

Adams said Polonius could fit in the modern world. “He’s a fascinating character – an apparent blitherer who is clever and manipulative, sort of a combination of Thomas Cromwell and Henry Kissinger.”

No stranger to the theatrical spotlight, Adams was in a Shakespeare Theatre Company production of The Merchant of Venice last summer. He’s also been in other D.C. theater productions, such as Hercules in Russia, Blackbird and Endgame.

Reviews called the small ensemble version of Hamlet a new approach to Shakespeare, one that should not have been missed.

Adams, in his four roles, was one of five actors who took on multiple characters in the play. This helped blur the lines between reality and what might very well have been Hamlet’s fantasies, creating a conflict within Hamlet that perhaps even the great Bard of Avon could not have imagined.

Considering that 21st century audiences favor entertainment no longer than the latest Hollywood blockbuster and plots with more twists and turns than those of the Bourne trilogy, this version of Hamlet delivered in ways that even Shakespeare might have admired.