You would expect that getting cast in a play with the reputation of Hamlet (um, okay, perhaps there’s only one play in that category) would bring a serious actor a lot of joy. But it seems that I’m not the only one around suffering from Paul Rudnick’s Disease (a serious psychological disorder characterized by an illogical, unnatural dislike or distaste for the greatest play in the history of blanket statements). Since writing the first-read-through post below, I have had several people whom I didn’t even know read blogs remark on how much they enjoyed reading it, how they have similar feelings about Hamlet.
It turns out that there are more than a couple of us with similar responses to the play, and especially to being part of it. I generally prefer tackling lesser-known works like Richard II and Measure for Measure, where the audience knows of the play more than they know it, and where the preconceptions are less likely to be obstacles for them to accept a bold acting or directing choice. (And we certainly made our share of those in Measure.) But Hamlet is more than a play, it's a fixture in the canon of world literature, it's scripture, it's pop culture. It's all those famous speeches and moments and scenes. And it's locked in the collective subconscious in a certain way: Gertrude is a certain way, Ophelia is a certain way, Hamlet is a certain way.
So it's a thrill to talk to Catherine, and to other actors, about the discoveries they're making with characters so deeply rooted in our cultural literature that they may as well be pure tropes. It's a delight to see some non-traditional casting (Prasad Tupe and Katie Ford's Rosincrance and Guildensterne) bear great fruit, and my favorite part of the night is when Jeff Cole and Liz Blake come rushing up to me individually or in a pair, thrilled to share what they've discovered about the extremely dynamic relationship they have developed between Hamlet and Ophelia. As for Horatio, well, let's just say that the "loyal friend" stereotype doesn't quite satisfy me as an actor, and that I'm working hard below the surface.
Strong, bold choices are growing all across the board, from 'Rick Gray (the Ghost), Margie Mills (Voltemand, etc.), Tim Sakiavicus (Claudius), and Jonathan Adams (Polonius), and the fight between Jeff and the wonderful Joe Carlson (Laertes) is looking fantastic even in early stages. Vanessa Passini's fight choreography is a wonderful mix of the urbane and desperate, and the actors have such a long stage to work on that it should be absolutely epic. Hamlet is shaping up to be unexpected and thrilling.
One actor asked me when I cast him in the show, "Andrew, are you sure I can do this?" I say to them all: Yes, you can. We can do this. We're doing it. As long as we treat this play like a play and not like a dusty, holy museum piece, we can do anything with it.