I’m excited about a second chat this week with a director about doing a production of Hamlet. I’m going to leave the director’s name out because we may decide not to carry on with this and I think highly of him. The first conversation began after I emailed late one night. I had gone on a midnight stroll through Brooklyn out to Greenwood Cemetery. I was feeling a little lost in life. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an ass-kicking acting job (meaning one that kicks my ass until I can surmount it) and it felt like a relative had died without my knowing about it.
I spent a lifetime one summer playing Horatio in an outdoor production and I was cast as the melancholy Dane in a production but the funding fell through. I got my feet wet with the role while I was in high school during my senior year and did several of his soliloquies for the Forensics Team. I’ll say them once in awhile when I’m showering or to check how hard I’m running.
I became interested in doing it again after watching the first season of Slings & Arrows. An interview with Paul Gross is one of the dvd extras. He was asked if the film star character playing Hamlet was a nod to the infamous Keanu Reeves production. Gross shrugged the question off a bit but added that after having played the role, he wished he had seen Reeves do it because his director had said there are two kinds of actors: pre-Hamlet and post-Hamlet. After his experience, he believed that was true.
Well, I don’t want to go through the rest of my life still being a pre-Hamlet actor. I’ve done lots of solo performance work so I know what it means to carry things by myself. And my first love was Shakespeare.
The big traps to avoid are getting caught up in the IMPORTANCE of the role and trying to come up with CONCEPT that makes it different. It’s a long play. It’s an imperfect play. It’s one of the all-time best plays. Engaging with it in honest way is what’s needed. People see through what’s going on otherwise.
My thoughts on the play are rather simple. It’s a play about love, trust and acting. Once Hamlet finds out his father has been murdered he goes about finding out who he can trust and therefore love. The list of people is small in his world: Horatio and maybe Gertrude, if she stops sleeping with Claudius. That’s it.
Oh, and the players.
This is a play about whether or not to act on something. In watching the Player King, Hamlet finds the courage to do what he must do. And it is through acting that Claudius’s guilt is confirmed. It is through acting that Hamlet makes others believe he is crazy, even though he isn’t. He is always aware of what he is doing the whole time. He is smart and quite funny to the point of being misunderstood by those around him most, if not all, of the time. The character in the play who really goes crazy is Ophelia.
I disagree with Olivier who said Hamlet is someone who can’t make up his mind. He isn’t a natural-born murderer. I don’t know about you but I’m the same way.
My hopes are to do this play in a decent theater space with a good cast of sharp and funny actors, to set the play in an era that makes sense of the performance and supernatural aspects of the piece and spend the kind of time on it necessary for solid work.