Calvin Theatre Company is looking for the lighter side of Hamlet.
On the last day in March, one week before the opening night of Calvin Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, two actors circle each other, wielding spears. One thrusts, the other parries and—turning to block a second blow— trips and falls, landing on his back. “Laertes” (senior Kaile VanOene) helps “Hamlet” (junior Dan Christmann) to his feet, and they stand laughing, pausing to catch their breath before practicing the scene once again.
April 7, 2011 will mark the first staging of Hamlet at Calvin in more than 60 years. And Shakespeare’s tragedy, featuring murder, suicide and a famous soliloquy delivered skull-in-hand, has a reputation for darkness.
“A lot of people talk about this idea of Hamlet’s depression,” said Calvin theater professor and production director Stephanie Sandberg. “There are six soliloquies, and only the first is melancholy.”
Sandberg has taken the show in a different direction. Her vision: “the concept of play.”
Playing games with reality
Student director Josh Boerman explained, “People familiar with Hamlet know the gist of it— his increasing insanity. They know him as very melancholy. That’s not Dan’s Hamlet.”
“I tried to divorce myself from any previous watchings of Hamlet,” Christmann said of defining his own version of the character. “This is my first time doing it— I’ve got to kind of just get into the part without seeing what other people have done … . Hamlet is not less depressed in this, but he likes the idea of dying … . He finds a real joy in thinking this through. He’s a very cerebral person.”
“At its core,” Boerman said, “this play is about a man who doesn’t want to deal with reality, and he does that by playing games.”
“It’s a game that finally kills him,” Sandberg said.
The set emphasizes the mental and physical dimensions of the Prince of Denmark’s deadly game. Its seating has been altered to fit a theatre-in-the-round model, making the Lab Theatre resemble a miniature Coliseum. The stage itself is shaped, as Sandberg described it, “like a Trivial Pursuit game piece,” and patterned like a chess board. The actors themselves will assemble the scenery during the play out of moveable Jenga pieces.
One of the challenges that confronted the Hamlet crew was the play’s prodigious running time, four hours in most full-script productions. Sandberg, Boerman and Costume Shop supervisor Heather Brown cut the script in half. They have retained several comic scenes frequently omitted in traditional productions.
A contemporary feel
Period setting posed a different challenge. Sandberg chose to divorce her production from a specific time and place, opting instead for an aesthetic drawn from high fashion, industrial hardware and the contemporary theatrical work of Peter Brooks and Anne Bogart. The play’s surreal style is heightened by configuration of the twelve-member cast, all of whom but Christmann play two or three characters.
Senior Sarah Jean DeRidder, playing Ophelia and Osric, initially found the production’s ahistorical setting a challenge. “That was the hardest part to work with at first,” she said, “because a lot of times you build characters off of the period. You know, how do they walk and what do they wear, but now that we’ve had more time with it, I love it because there’s so much freedom in what we get to choose. So I’m thankful she chose that.”
April 7-9, 14-16, 2011 7:30 p.m.
April 9, 2011 3:00 p.m. (in conjunction with the Festival of Faith and Music)
April 14, 2011 10:00 a.m. (high school matinee)
April 15, 2011 12:00 p.m. (high school matinee)