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UI Theater Department stages modern Hamlet

BY JULIA JESSEN | DECEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa Theatre Department's production of A Hamlet will surprise Shakespeare lovers who are more familiar with Hamlet clad in tights and clutching a skull.

"It's kind of a contemporary Hamlet," said Lauren Brickman, who plays Gertrude in the play. It will open at 8 p.m. today in the Theatre Building's Thayer Theatre.

The third-year M.F.A. actor said the production will feel more like a rehearsal than a polished performance. The actors will perform on a simple stage with sets that don't appear to be finished, wearing street clothes and using such props as guns and iPhones.

Though the production details might scandalize theater purists, Brickman says the core of A Hamlet will be familiar.

"The thing that remains is Shakespeare's awesome language," she said. "It's still there."

Sets, costumes, and props are not the only changed elements in this version of Hamlet. The play is also radically condensed — running approximately an hour and 45 minutes, compared with the usual performance, which can go for up to four hours. The content focuses more on the relationships, cutting out the court intrigue and political tensions.

Also different is the casting of Hamlet. In this production, the role is played by a woman — however, she still plays the role as a man. Theater lecturer Carol Macvey, the director of A Hamlet, said this was a great opportunity for a woman to perform the role.

"I think the role is so great it kind of transcends genders, as far as I'm concerned," she said.

Senior theater major Martin Kirchmeier, the stage manager of the show, said he believes that this version is appealing for all kinds of audiences, including Shakespeare buffs and Shakespeare novices.

"Before I started working on this production, I was a little afraid and scared of Shakespeare in general, and now it's become really attainable," he said. "I really enjoy it."

Macvey said Shakespeare transcends time and is still so beloved by audiences because he had the ability to understand what it means to be human and the ability to articulate that meaning in his work.

"He gets to the essence of things, and those things are what it means to be alive, and what it means to struggle and to succeed and to survive, " she said.

Shakespeare's work still draws people into his world today, and allusions to Hamlet permeate our modern culture from books to television shows to movies.

"We were all joking that once you started working on this play, you can't escape the references to Hamlet that are out there," Brickman said. "Even in the new Muppet movie that came out, they make a reference to Hamlet."

Macvey said A Hamlet is only one glimpse into the complicated world of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the reason it has the title A Hamlet is because it might be one of many that audience members see in their lives.

"No one production can contain the whole play," she said. "And so we're offering this up as one possible way of looking and thinking about Hamlet, and our hope is that this is one of many Hamlet's you'll get to see and hopefully enjoy."


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