Imagine a time when typewriters and ashtrays crowded together on office desks. Imagine girls in minidresses with beehive hairdos lounging around Manhattan apartments while men in tailored blazers listen to John Coltrane. Then picture one of these finely dressed gentlemen standing up to exclaim: “To be, or not to be: That is the question.”
Today and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
Tickets from $3
Today, tomorrow and Sunday, the Rude Mechanicals will set a similar scene in their production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Director Emily Lyon, a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, set out to answer Hamlet’s famous question as she took on the daunting task of staging one of literature’s most well known and difficult plays.
“ ‘Hamlet’ is a huge undertaking,” Lyon said. “I started off with saying, ‘Hey, I know it’s “Hamlet” and people are going to have expectations, but we’re going to do our own thing.’ Our play is what we decide to do with it.”
Lyon’s decision was to set the classic Shakespeare story in the 1960s — creating a “Mad Men”-inspired show, complete with men in suits and women in cocktail dresses.
“I feel like doublets and hose and men in tights, it makes people either confused or put off,” Lyon said. “But to me it’s such a living document, such an alive play. Why not make it more interesting and have the audience excited?”
Kris Reilly, a School of MT&D senior, stars as the foreboding and sulky Hamlet. Reilly said the process of fitting Hamlet into the life and style of the ’60s was easier than expected.
“You’ll notice throughout the show that the ’60s are an era that men were expected to be hyper-masculine,” Reilly said. “You’re coming out of a period where the U.S. was very dominant, so the men had to be very dominant. And in ‘Hamlet,’ there are a lot of lines and other little things that hinge on masculinity, and it fits very well.”
Also suited to the “Mad Men” era is the idea of silence and secrecy — a general sense of the clandestine that translates well to a ’60s-era production. As in “Mad Men,” “Hamlet” is full of covert expeditions, sneaky conversations and undisclosed plotting, with each character having a distinct public face shown to the world and a darker, deeper private life rarely on display.
Along with well-dressed men dragging swords through their apartments while contemplating their lives, Reilly said the excitement of the play is found in the act of telling the tale. No matter the setting, the plot or who’s speaking, sharing the story is what entices and invites people to sit through a long performance.
“Theater is about sitting down and experiencing something that’s unstructured,” Reilly said. “It’s open time, and that’s the mentality you need.”
Though “Hamlet” is not a short, comedic or light play, the script, cast and plot are all richly devised to provide the audience with the mission of any theater performance: entertainment.
“Everyone is so rushed today — it’s all 30-second news clips and truncated articles online,” Reilly said. “We’re so info-saturated that we often lose the indulgence of imagination, or the meaning of the information we’re consuming. The play is longer, but I think if you can convince yourself to forget about the length, there’s something important, human and fundamentally beautiful about the story.”