Maryland Entertainment Group presents "Hamlet"
William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is filled with quotable lines including its most iconic, "To be, or not to be: that is the question."
It is because of that language that for five years The Maryland Entertainment Group has been hosting Shakespeare in the Park. Sam Little, who co-owns MEG with wife Alyssa, is directing this production about a prince who is haunted by a ghost telling him that his uncle murdered his father for the throne.
"The language is obviously the thing. The poetry of it. So many people, I think, try to get away when they perform Shakespeare, to get away from the poetry, which I believe is a mistake. It is heightened language and we should treat it as such," he said. "So when you see the best Shakespeare performers, they really embrace that language and the poetry of it and it sounds beautiful as it trips off the tongue. I also really enjoy the drama of it, I enjoy the storylines. I enjoy the characters, the themes that can last over 400 years still be exciting to watch, place it into a different era, place it into a different time, and these universal human themes still resonate all over the world. I think that's my favorite part. The power of how much it resonates."
"Hamlet" will be performed from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, and from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at University Plaza in downtown Hagerstown. If it rains, the show will be moved to Bridge of Life on South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown.
Although the language is clearly in tact, Little has transplanted "Hamlet" from days of kings and queens to the 1920s where the family is now the Mafia. But something still clearly stinks in Denmark.
Little said he choose 1920s and the Mafia theme for several reasons for his cast of 16. He said the first one, he said, was that he wanted to cast more ladies in the show
"I was trying to figure out how to change some of the characters from male to female to get some of my actresses involved," he said. "And I ended up choosing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and everything seemed to fall in play. I decided to keep them female characters, then I thought of them as flappers and it evolved slowly into this Mafia concept. I always thought of Hamlet as a family drama, so I think the Mafia plays right into it. And then when you think of kings and queens, organized crime syndication it all kind of works out the same way."
Luke Reed of Shippesnburg, Pa., takes on the role of the young Prince of Denmark, with his MEG debut. He, too, shares Little's love of the Shakespearean language.
"I think why you do Shakespeare is for the language. He's a master of words. He's a master at characters and tension. I think it's an actor's dream to play such a large and diverse role," he said.
Reed, who teaches high school drama as well is a working actor, said believing in the text of Shakespeare helps when embodying the characters.
"I think Shakespeare is that good of a writer that what he's after is the human soul, and so if anyone just approaches this character and this text honestly it will be their own. For me, I just get to find that resonates with me and vibrates with me and it would be completely different than if someone else played this role," he said.
What Reed said he really loves about this production is that it gets to the bare bones of the storyline.
"What I love about working on this particular production of "Hamlet" is what we've really done is we've stripped away is a lot of the more grandeur approaches that some people take to "Hamlet" and really made it this intimate family drama which is at the core of the show," he said.
Reed said he's looking forward to performing outside.
"Originally in Elizabethan playhouses ... were outside with the open skies above them. He wrote characters so large with ideas and thoughts that were so large that they really resonate under the open sky," he said. "I think it's quite fitting."
Robert Leembruggen of Frederick, Md., performs as King Claudius, and is excited to take on the role for his first time with MEG.
"I have an affiliation with Shakespeare, and finding roles to do in Shakespeare don't come to us very often as much as we like. I'm happy to have found it," he said, with a whisper of an English accent. "This specific play with Claudius, if anything is conveyed, it just reminds me of the current script of what's going on in the world right now. His character being someone who is ambitious and wants all power and will do anything he can to get his way and get his will, it's kind of a synonymous with our present political climate, if you like. I'm hoping some of that will show through."
Leembruggen, who is a financial controller for a law firm in Rockville, Md., said "Hamlet" has a good lesson.
"You have to be careful. You can want the world and you can push for the world, but be careful of the steps you take to get what you want. Because ultimately as in Claudius' case you can be too clever and bring about your own downfall," he said.
It's been more than a decade since Leembruggen acted in an outdoor theater, but he's looking forward to it because of what it can give an actor.
"With it comes freedom, very often when you're in a confined space with lights and positions, a lot of your rules are sort of set for you. In here, you don't know what's going to happen in any given evening or any night. The audience let's you go, and very often you can go where they want to take you. What I love is the ability to be able to just expand the horizon. We're told we can but because of this there's no real restraint. You never know who's going to react. You never know who's going to speak to you. The beauty for me being able to not improvise but feed off it because it brings a different thing every single time."
by Perk Hull Design
Photo: Luke Reed of Shippensburg, Pa., stars as Hamlet in the Maryland Entertainment Group production of "Hamlet" for Shakespeare in the Park. (Photo by Perk Hull Design)
If you go
WHAT: 5th annual Western Maryland Shakespeare in the Park: "Hamlet" presented by Maryland Entertainment Group
WHEN: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 24
WHERE: University Plaza, 50 W Washington St., Hagerstown
CONTACT: Go to www.megtheatre.org.
MORE: Bring a blanket, lawn chair or picnic.
EVEN MORE: If weather is bad, it will be announced on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MarylandEntertainmentGroup/, and the show will be moved to Bridge of Life, 14 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown