Hamlet, one of the most influential tragedies in English literature and every actor’s Everest, has been selected as Shakespeare on the Sound’s 2016 production, only this performance will have a twist. It will feature a 1950s setting and an age-appropriate cast.
Claire Kelly’s adaption of Shakespeare’s masterpiece unfolds for 16 performances June 16 through July 3 in Rowayton’s Pinkney Park, with 21-year-old Joey Santia in the title role. Casting an actor of Santia’s age as the principal figure runs contrary to the conventions of professional theater, says Kelly. Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, Orson Welles, Richard Burton and Weston resident Christopher Plummer are just a few of the talents who played the part. Yet all of them were mature and accomplished personalities when they took on the role of the iconic character of the Prince of Denmark who avenges the murder of his father. Even Paul Giamatti was 45 in the Yale Repertory Theater production in 2013.
Santia is a sophomore at Columbia University who played Hamlet last summer in his hometown of Ventura, California. He was also a member of the Apprentice Company of Shakespeare on the Sound and appeared in the ensemble of the 2015 Pinkney Park production of All’s Well that Ends Well. Kelly, who is the company’s artistic director, describes Santia as “a versatile, imaginative, thoughtful, talented and emotionally connected actor. It was extremely propitious to find an actor his age to take on a role of the magnitude of Hamlet.”
Setting the production in the early 1950s, the period after World War II, reflects, in Kelly’s words, “on a macro level, the fragile and dangerous world in which Hamlet lives. It was a time of rebuilding of families and countries. People were still dealing with great loss while trying to move on and find hope. On the surface, life seemed to be moving forward but there was an undercurrent of uncertainty and fear that the new beginnings could be torn away.”
This production is unique in another way, too. Where classic interpretations of Hamlet run more than four hours, the script for Pinkney Park has been trimmed to 2 ½ hours, wrapped around a 15-minute intermission.
This season, Shakespeare on the Sound introduces “Hints on Hamlet,” a series of events that are free to the public. Wine-and-cheese socials are scheduled at the Rowayton Community Center on the second Monday of every month (starting February 10) until the end of the play, and they offer guests insights on how the pieces of the production are assembled. Registration is suggested. For more information on performances and special events go to www.shakespeareonthesound.org.