As this semester’s Shakespeare at Yale festival draws to a close, a new production of “Hamlet” brings one of Shakespeare’s most iconic works to the Yale stage.
The production is the culmination of the theater studies seminar production course “The Actor and the Text: Hamlet,” for which students have spent the semester studying “Hamlet” and preparing for this performance. Directed by the course’s professor, Deborah Margolin, the show is also the senior project of Justin Dobies ’12, Ella Dershowitz ’12 and Tom Sanchez ’12.
Margolin said that the course functions as a dramaturgical laboratory, with students holding passionate discussions of the play and defending their theses by directing individual scenes to see how their staging ideas hold up.
“The class gave us the luxury to spend a lot of time on this play and approach it from different angles: the intellectual, the physical and more,” Dershowitz, who plays Ophelia, said. “It meant that we were together as an entire group for at least four hours a week.”
While the students spent four hours a week in class, the production also involved daily rehearsals beginning in mid-February. Sanchez, who plays Claudius, noted that while “Hamlet” has not required significantly more time than any other show he has acted in at Yale, he has considered it a bigger commitment in terms of examining the techinical aspects of the text because it is his senior project and the culmination of his time as a theater studies major.
The cast spends the entirety of the show onstage, Margolin said, with the actors either playing within the circular set or sitting along its periphery. She added that the round stage was inspired by her memory of taking her children to the Big Apple Circus, adding that the circular platform rotates as the story progresses and scenes change.
Margolin said that the “simple beauty of the circus’ breathtaking clarity” pushed her to want to tell a clean story without modernization or many sound cues.
“My vision was clean-lined and has the investigation of Shakespeare’s text without peeing on it or marking the territory of a set era,” Margolin added.
She noted that there are two exceptions to the show’s dedication to simplicity: a sword fight and a silent scene added to the original script that Margolin believes gives Ophelia’s character more fullness.
The class elected to streamline the script, cutting the run time from its original four hours to a narrative two hours and 30 minutes long, Margolin said.
In preparing to play the title character, Dobies said though he and Margolin sometimes had different opinions of how the role of Hamlet should be portrayed, they met in the middle to find what element of the story they wanted to reinforce and tell.
Dobies said that for him, Hamlet is the ultimate role. As a comedy and tragedy that includes sword fights, laughter and tears, there is very little the role does not cover, he said.
“I wanted to go out with a bang and put everything I have into Hamlet. This is the role most like me and the role that matters the most, and I want to do it justice while I can,” Dobies said.
Dershowitz added that each actor had an interesting take on their characters that did not rely on gimmicks and was unlike anything she had ever seen before. Because the official rehearsal process began in mid-February, she said it was exciting to see how the show evolved as the actors did.
“Deb [Margolin] always talks about finding your character in your scene partner’s eyes,” she added.
Margolin, a passionate lover of Shakespeare, said it is a running joke within the theater studies department that she ‘wrote’ “Hamlet” because she loves the play so much.
“This play has tortured me for 35 years,” she said. “I think maybe I’ve gotten it out of my system. Maybe not.”
“Hamlet,” which opened last weekend, will run through Saturday, April 21.