Playwright Will Alden ’10 and director Elizabeth Sutton-Stone ’10 are feeling good about the staged reading of Alden’s play, “King’s Coffin.”
The play focuses on Jasper, a young man who returns home from college after his father has died to find a strange new family dynamic that he and the rest of the family struggle to negotiate. Jasper feels obligated to respond to his father’s death, but he is unclear how to proceed.
“It’s a really small production,” Sutton-Stone said over lunch on Thursday. “It’s the work of a week.” But that doesn’t mean that she’s not excited. Sutton-Stone happily accepted Alden’s invitation to direct a staged reading of the play months ago after he premiered it in a table reading directed by Cordelia Istel ’10 at the Yale Playwright’s Festival.
Although the production came together quickly, it wasn’t as stressful as it might otherwise have been. Alden wasn’t concerned about the cast of the show because he had worked with many of them during the table reading. Istel, for example, is now acting rather than directing. “There are a lot of people involved who know my intentions,” Alden said.
Sutton-Stone likewise felt comfortable with the material. Directing was a pleasure for her because “[the play] is straightforward, but it’s also very basic and elemental.” Sutton-Stone said it was a relief to have savvy actors that didn’t need every part of the action explained.
And if the action reminds you of a certain play about an angsty Danish prince, it’s not an accident. Alden didn’t set out to write a response to “Hamlet,” but the work developed into what he calls a kind of “anti-Hamlet” in which many of the play’s recognizable characters and plot elements are subverted. Although Jasper is confronted by the ghost of his dead father, for example, his father’s advice is considerably more nebulous than the kind provided by King Hamlet.
Don’t worry: Alden ensured that the play isn’t a pompous metaproduction. If it’s not as casual as a table reading, it’s also not as formal as a full production. “I’m actually excited about that,” Alden explained. He is confident that the format will make the actors more relaxed since they don’t have to learn lines.
The format of a staged reading may be unfamiliar to many Yale theatergoers, but Sutton-Stone invites everyone to embrace its advantages. She believes that the bare-bones nature of the production makes for intense one-on-one tenderness. “[It shows] that you can be very simple, but you can still cut out all of the bullshit.” She smiled and added, “A good old-fashioned ghost is all you need.”