Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hamlet: Opening Night Remembrances

Pittsburgh Classic Players opened Hamlet last night at The New Bohemian, a tattoo parlor and performance venue in an old Czech Catholic church in the heart of the North Shore. I had placed Hamlet in 1970s Lower East Side Manhattan prior to our securing the venue and I can only thank the theatre gods for the alchemy between my conception of Denmark and The New Bohemian. In one of the earliest conversations between myself and Hamlet, I had said that I wanted Denmark to be a vibrant place that dies before our eyes.

Everything about The New Bohemian from the stage’s marble floor to the thrust’s red carpet to the stained glass windows in the house appear rich and run down. There is something strange and audacious and fitting in a new theatre company beginning their life with a play as preoccupied with death as Hamlet. If theatre is an affirmation of storytelling and storytelling is a means of remembering, where better to begin than an elegy?

PCP Co-Founders pow-wow before setting props, costumes, and the like.

The production runs three weekends. I have no doubt the run will simultaneously exhilarate and exhaust the actors: there are eight of them performing twenty five roles. That number is another happy accident. I flew to Pittsburgh intending to cast twelve; a slender and standard number, enough to minimize doubling and still fill the stage with the court of Elsinore and Fortinbras’ army. How twelve became eight is a story for the bar, and you’re buying. I count the ends, though, as another gift from the theatre gods.

There is something fitting in having the same actors who play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the friends Hamlet accuses of playing him as though he were a mere pipe, double as the Players whose entry Rosencrantz and Guildenstern announced to Hamlet’s delight. And, in our staging the Players are paired as two couples: Aeneas and Dido and Gonzago and Baptista.

There is something haunting about the actor who played Ophelia’s father, Polonius, being the one to silently attend her in the mad scene, and something wickedly funny about that same actress standing beside him as the pair of them dig Ophelia’s grave, something heart-wrenching about them being the ones, at Laertes instruction, to lay her in the earth.

Last night, I had to say goodbye to the cast. Projects in Portland await, as does my lovely-and-forever-generous husband. I would love to have the resources to return and see the show later in the run. Alas, I do not. So it is goodbye, the best kind of good-bye, the one where there are tears in your eyes yet your heart is beaming. Directing Hamlet has brought the words of one of the most exquisite plays ever written into my heart and soul. And as for Pittsburgh Classic Players? This is only the beginning.

The Ghost (Adam Huff) confronts Hamlet (Johnny Adkins)
Photo (c) Heather M. Hensen

View between Chicago and Portland on November 2nd,
the day I wrote this post.