Brevity is the Soul of Wit
By DJ Small
The infamous Prince of Denmark is taking shape in two forms at Cal State San Bernardino this May, in a classical rendition and a musical parody of the renowned text. “Hamlet” and “Hamlet (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince of Denmark” will be performed in repertory May 16 through June 8 at the campus theater.
In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” something is indeed wrong in the state of Denmark. The rightful king has been murdered by his brother, who then marries his dead brother’s widow within two months. Hamlet is seeing dead people and his madness causes his girlfriend to go crazy. But the university’s “Hamlet” is more of a horror story of graphic dimension than a classic tragedy. Director Tom Provenzano has created spectacularly flawed human beings, not heroes.
In the pop-musical parody, conceived by the reputable and talented Troubadour Theatre Company (or The Troubies) and Directed by Kathy Ervin, Shakespeare’s tale of murder and revenge are tempered with a heavy dose of slapstick, cultural references and bad puns. According to Provenzano, the two productions have little in common, aside from the plot and the fact that they are being performed in repertory together. The productions consist of two separate casts, with very different tasks. If there is any relation, Provenzano says, it’s only that the classic version is going darker to contrast the over-the-top humor of The Troubies’ material.
The classical production has been cut to an ambitious two-and-a-half hours in which all of the politics of the play have been removed and the family melodramas are emphasized.
“It is really about the rot in Denmark that Hamlet sees,” Provenzano says.
The show is underscored with music, which Provenzano says will help to show what is going on in Hamlet and Ophelia’s broken minds. Provenzano chose to do colorblind casting with the 17-person ensemble as well as being somewhat arbitrary about age. Nick Jenkins, who plays Hamlet, is a freshman at the university, and Ophelia, played by Jessica Floyd, is a senior.
Jenkins has been doing theater since high school, but says nothing has been as challenging as the legendary role. Looking back at all of the great actors that have portrayed the melancholy Dane, Jenkins adds that he’s trying to stay true to the character while adding his own individual flare.
Though various forms of Hamlet have been conceived and performed over time, nothing can compare to The Troubies’ rendition. Unfortunately, Ervin was somewhat left to her own devices. She thought to have a conversation with Troubie Artistic Director Matt Walker, but the conversation never came into fruition. And all the script offered, according to Ervin, was dialogue and, ever so often, the word “latze,” in parentheses.
Ervin had seen several Troubie productions, but not their “Hamlet.”
For Ervin the situation was both good and bad. She understood the necessity of having strong and versatile actors in the cast, but also recognized an opportunity for the production to be more genuine, rather than an impersonation of an impersonation.
The Troubies are also known for their improvisations, at times trying to make each other crack a smile on stage. Ervin gave her cast room to improvise, but included boundaries that let the actors know how far they could go.
“We tried to stay more true to spoofing Hamlet,” Ervin says. “We are making the assumption that everyone will see the other show (too).”
But Ervin says the speedy rehearsal process is keeping the comedy really fresh.
“It’s been really exciting, intense work,” she says.
Hamlet and Hamlet (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince of Denmark at Cal State San Bernardino, 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, (909) 537-5884. Tickets $5 for students, $10 for seniors and military, and $15 for general admission. Running May 16 through June 8