Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This is the Big One.

It begins tonight with the first read-through.

Richmond Shakespeare begins our fourth season of the Richmond Shakespeare Theatre at Second Presbyterian Church with a little-known work called Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. A cast of eleven makes the largest ensemble we have yet assembled for our downtown space. It seemed only fitting to give this grand play an epic-sized (comparatively) cast.

I'm sure Grant, who's directing (his first time directing a Richmond Shakespeare production in three years), will have some very interesting perspectives on the show. I'm also sure they will be much smarter than mine. But I'm in the cast, and I'm going to write about that point of view.

My secret shame is that I've never been terribly crazy about this play. I have always preferred the antics of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the poet-politics of Richard II, and lately the raw passions of Measure for Measure. It's not exactly that there's anything wrong with Hamlet, it's just that other plays speak more to me. I'm more moved by King Lear's intensity and As You Like It's love-devotion than by Hamlet's inner struggle.

I think we all have an idea of what Hamlet is. It's "To be or not to be." It's "O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt" (also a Dream Theater lyric, by the way). It sure as heck is a bunch of "Words, words, words;" it's a long, long play. It's a guy in black with ruffles about his neck complaining and procrastinating. It's a play that could be over in ten minutes if Hamlet would just get up off his butt and do something, right? Take the Olivier picture here for example. This is just everything people who hate Hamlet hate about Hamlet.

I've acknowledged to myself recently that maybe this is the problem: I don't dislike Hamlet, I just don't love the idea of what I remember Hamlet to be. So I'm looking at it with fresh eyes as we begin this process, throwing my preconceptions aside, open to finding the wonder that the world has seen in this play for 400 years.

We're fortunate in this production to have a Hamlet named Jeff Cole to breathe his own kind of life into the role. Jeff is a dear friend of mine from years past, and he brings an openness and honesty to the role that I think we'll find refreshing in the shadow of our ideas of the play's awe-inspiring intellectual poetry. He's also a great guy and a blast to work with.

The late, great Dr. James Parker, who shared my passion for the History Plays, and in particular Richard II, once spoke to me of Hamlet. We were sitting in his cave-like office in the VCU Performing Arts Center discussing Shakespeare and musicals, and he intoned like a religious pronouncement: "Andrew, Hamlet isn't about procrastination. It's about waiting for the right moment."

Richmond Shakespeare is no longer waiting for the moment to produce Hamlet. We start tonight. And while I don't get to say any of the Dane's famous lines, I do get Horatio's gorgeous "Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." No small peanuts. That would be the best last line ever if Fortinbras didn't walk in. Rewrite!

1 comment:

Doc McConnell said...

This play holds a special place in my heart, so I find your introductory comments very interesting. I applaud you for attempting to look at this ageless piece with an open mind, and I am curious to see if your opinions change with a different cast and a different director.

You know as well as anyone that the same play can be performed 10 times by 10 different companies, and every production will be unique. I wonder if the company to which you have devoted so much of your time can give you a new perspective. I hope so.

-- Doc McConnell