Modern Madness:

Hamlet
May 19-22, 25-29
Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m. • Sun., 5 p.m.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St.
www.browncoattheatre.com • $5-10

SCHIZOPHRENIC PSYCHO: Hamlet, played by Richard Davis, is portrayed in a new light during Guerilla Theatre’s latest production, opening this week. Courtesy photo.

Guerilla Theatre’s Richard Davis, artistic director, has pondered “Hamlet” for roughly 10 years. Wanting to adapt the Shakespearean classic with a new twist, he decided to toy with modern skepticism of paranormal activity. Davis has written a world for Hamlet where he is not the tragic hero but simply a grim character.

 

“I’ve always wanted to make Hamlet the villain,” Davis reveals. “I’ve written academic papers arguing the point that Hamlet was not a hero, because people die either at his hand or his inability to act.”

Multiple approaches to “Hamlet” have been done before, but Davis’ unique vision is the result of years of studying the play and drawing connections with what would now be considered his mental illness. “I did a lot of research on the manifestation of paranoid schizophrenia and it’s terrifying,” Davis says. “Then I really started to explore that in [‘Hamlet’].”

The director of the play, Amber Davis, has collaborated on this project since its beginning. Though they are husband and wife, the Davises are genuinely and strictly passionate about the work at hand.  “Hamlet” has been a favorite of Amber’s because of its universal and enduring themes of revenge, desire and anguish. She has worked with her husband for years on other unique productions, both playing supporting roles where Hamlet was a woman.

The people of Guerilla Theatre wear many hats. They can go from writing to acting to directing to showcase each talent fully. Their abilities as performers are evident, which comes in handy when it’s time for casting. Thanks to his experience playing three different roles in “Hamlet,” Davis’ wife, Amber, knew right away she wanted her husband to play the role.

Davis’ Hamlet is not a prince but the son of wealthy parents set in modern time with what he says is a more realistic approach for today’s audience. None of the characters in this version, besides Hamlet, see the ghost of his father. Therefore, no one believes the ghost exists, so they label Hamlet a paranoid schizophrenic. He then gets placed in the Denmark Hospital for the criminally insane.

Hamlet is under the care of doctors Polonius and Laertes. Played by Ron Hasson, Polonius runs the hospital, and unlike the original character, he is not Ophelia’s father. Hasson describes his character as being much like the original: very smart but not very articulate. “[Polonius] definitely knows what he’s saying but sometimes it’s more like a stream of consciousness.”

Even though he plays a doction, Hasson says he ironically feels like the craziest person onstage. “It feels nice to be able to be that person,” he says with a hint of a smile.

Ophelia, played by newcomer Caroline Counts, is also a patient of the hospital, sent there with severe bipolar disorder. She starts off the play “doing better,” in the sense that she takes her medications regularly but things begin to change as she attempts to understand and help Hamlet. Ophelia struggles with trying to do what she’s supposed to do, and she doesn’t want it to be a lost cause. Eventually she becomes even more manic depressive throughout the play.

“[Ophelia] has always been misunderstood,” Counts says. “I’ve set her up as the ‘typical’ woman who thinks she can make her man better—I can certainly relate to that.”

People who are familiar with “Hamlet” can expect a fresh and unique look at a classic work, Davis says. “They’ll be amazed at how little we’ve changed the text and structure . . . we’ve just changed the way actors approach the text.”

Maintaining the original Elizabethan-era English, yet applying modern-day context, the cast of characters have their work cut out for them. Guerilla Theatre presents this dramatic re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with brand-new stadium-arrangement seating the Brown Coat Pub and Theatre, starting May 19-22 and 25-29. The shows start at 8 p.m. with special matinee performances at 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students.

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