Taking William Shakespeare’s longest play, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” and condensing it into a one-act play is no small feat.
Then taking the Bard’s story and switching the lines to Dr. Seuss rhymes?
Another challenge, indeed.
One that Bayfield High School performers and crew are carrying off with aplomb in their production of “Hamlet Hears a Who,” which opens Friday (Nov. 12) at the Bayfield Performing Arts Center and runs through next weekend.
Director Claire Harvey said she chose the piece because it combines Shakespeare’s classic tale of murder, love and treachery, then adds something high school performers remember – the well-loved rhymes of their childhood. The play is written by Christina Hamlett and Jamie Dare.
She also wanted a piece with a large cast so plenty of students get lines, which the cast of 30 students is bringing to life.
Set in modern times, Hamlet is a forlorn college student flunking his classes, played with youthful angst by Charlie O’Hair. His cellphone constantly blares Wagner’s wedding march, which is a series of never-ending calls from his needy girlfriend, Ophelia, performed by Freya Underwood. She stylishly pulls off the role of a power-hungry young woman who wants to marry a prince, no matter the cost.
Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, played by Linda Stephenson, is the frigid matriarch who barely acknowledges the death of her husband, then quickly marries his brother, Claudius, portrayed by the Peyton Cordova, so she can remain queen. Cordova’s Claudius is idle, bored and not at all fazed about murdering his brother.
Hamlet’s father, however, has other ideas.
Named Bob in this production, the ghostly figure of Hamlet Sr. comes back to haunt his son, urging him to kill Claudius to avenge his death. Bob is portrayed by Don Ledvina, who swills coffee during their banter.
Here is Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, Dr. Seuss-style:
“To be or not? I’m way upset.
How messed up can my psyche get?
Lost, bereft and too forlorn –
I sometimes wish I’d not been born.
My friends all think I’m way uncool.
I’m flunking every class in school.
I’m supposed to be in charge,
Wearing crowns and living large!
Instead, I’ll have to go to work.
Such a loser, such a jerk.
All because my father died.
All because my uncle lied.
The evidence was plain as day
And yes they said, ‘It’s just a play.’
All my best-laid plans undone!
Where’s the vengeance? Where’s the fun?
What’s the point of going on?
Would they weep if I was gone?
What if death’s the path I chose?
No. Wait. I’d miss my favorite shows.“
And in answer to Hamlet’s eternal question, “To be or not?” his father’s Starbucks-sipping ghost replies, “What you need’s a helpful spirit!”
A comic star turn comes from Brad Foutz, playing Ophelia’s brother, Laertes.
Wearing a black leather jacket and looking like a 1950s gang member going to a rumble, he offers to stab Hamlet for not paying enough attention to his sister. Fortunately, she quashes the idea. Ophelia’s father, Polonius, is a fast-talking paternal figure played by Jeremy Reynolds.
At the beginning to the play, Shakespeare’s classic witches toss Dr. Seuss hats and Cat in the Hat dolls into the cauldron while reciting their rhyming lines.
They are portrayed by Chloe Sarnow, Lilly Bailey, Ashlyn Talbot and Paige Talbot.
Harvey is thrilled to be back directing at her alma mater. A 2010 graduate of BHS, she is even more thrilled by the stage and seating at the performing arts center, which was built after she graduated and she left to attend Asuza Pacific University in California.
WHAT: Hamlet Hears a Who.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday today), Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19 and 2 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Bayfield Performing Arts Center, 800 County Road 501, Bayfield.
TICKETS: Adults $7, students $5.
A professional actress, she was busy performing in productions in Los Angeles when COVID-19 struck, canceling theater performances with a devastating finality.
She had performed in Shakepeare’s “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night” and musicals such as “Pirates of Penzance” and “The Wizard of Oz.” She also was production manager for the band Paper Jackets as well as a member of the production team for the American Contemporary Ballet.
She returned home to Bayfield after the pandemic set in, then ran into BHS music director Derek Smith, who urged her to apply for the part-time theater instruction position at the high school.
“I love this stage,” she said, noting that it is larger than many theaters in which she has performed.
Assistant Director Michael Suazo and the crew have created a modern set featuring Hamlet’s dorm room, his parents’ palace suite and what might be the only Starbucks coffee shop set in a Shakespearean play.
Shakespeare fans, Dr. Seuss enthusiasts and theater fans in general will enjoy this comic romp set against a tragic backdrop.