Take Shakespeare’s revered classic Hamlet and pare it down from three-hours-plus to a 45-minute version suitable for taking on tour to schools across the state? You’ve heard of speed dating; this is speed drama.
It’s certainly a daunting task, one assigned to Hamlet Redux co-adapters Stephanie Fleischmann and Dmitry Troyanovsky for the Asolo Rep’s New Stages program, which sends FSU/Asolo Conservatory students on tour to educate and stimulate young minds. How do you begin to convey the complexity and depth of this masterpiece in such an abbreviated, scaled-down form?
Well, for one thing, you employ only five or six actors (there are two different teams playing the main roles on tour), portraying just seven characters (so long Horatio, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). For another, you keep the set and prop requirements to a minimum (no problem there). And then you hone in on what you consider the essential themes of the piece, occasionally transplanting some famous lines of dialogue to different scenes and different mouths. Liberties have been taken with Hamlet many times before, and for the most part that shouldn’t bother anyone too much here, although it may be disconcerting at first.
But the next question becomes: Does it work? In some ways, yes. Director Troyanovsky has come up with simple yet clever ways to stage familiar scenes. The ghost of Hamlet’s father, for instance, is represented by a spectral crown dangling from a long pole; a black bowler hat becomes a symbol of the madness that grips young Hamlet (played in the version I saw by Katie Cunningham, who had no trouble conveying a sort of troubled masculinity, clad all in black and with a short cropped wig. Moria Sine Clinton's costume designs also provide a sort of character shorthand). The cast is able to deal both with the Shakespearean dialogue and, occasionally, the role shifts required (Luke Bartholomew plays both father and son as Polonius and Laertes; Tony Stopperan is both the smooth Claudius and the morbidly entertaining gravedigger).
In other ways, you may feel you’re missing more than just dialogue or characters. Played throughout at a fast clip (perhaps in the belief that middle and high schoolers are used to that in their entertainment, or that they will lose interest if the action slows for even a moment), this Hamlet can occasionally verge, unintentionally, on comedy territory as formerly lengthy, carefully developed scenes are shot out in rapid order and the bodies start to pile up. And that rapidity may also make it difficult for some audience members to feel the engagement we should with these doomed, complicated people who are standing in for us as they face life’s major questions.
More public performances (in addition to the school ones) are planned but not yet announced for Hamlet Redux; call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org for information.