The tale begins on a dark winter night at Denmark's Elsinore Castle, a castle now haunted by the ghost of its murdered king, Prince Hamlet's father. Hamlet takes on the task of avenging his father's death, and thus begins his descent into futility...
Playwright William Shakespeare "shuffled off this mortal coil" in 1616. His explorations of human love, ambition and hubris, translated into at least 80 languages, have remained ever-timely and freshly relevant throughout four centuries.
Teatro Serpiente is about to embark on a two-week run of what is arguably the Bard's most complex work: "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." The production opens this weekend with performances Friday through Sunday (Nov. 9-11), and continues the following weekend with shows Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17. All shows will be at 7 p.m. at Taos High School's Little Theatre, 134 Cervantes Street.
The tale begins on a dark winter night at Denmark's Elsinore Castle, a castle now haunted by the ghost of its murdered king, Prince Hamlet's father. Hamlet takes on the task of avenging his father's death, and thus begins his descent into futility, crippling indecision and madness, or at least feigned madness.
Actor, singer and writer Serena Jade Smith is making her directorial debut with this production. Smith devoted six months to preparation, adapting a four-hour script with 32 characters down to a manageable length of a bit over two hours, with 10 actors. She also immersed herself in the canon of literature and analysis about the play, considering everything from Freud to "The Lion King."
"I had so many questions and zero answers," Smith said. "The way I cut it kind of makes the play a little more surreal. Everything is shown from Hamlet's perspective, all these in-between places, between life and death, between feminine and masculine. I wanted to really explore his distrust of women and the different ways of being a man that are expressed in the different characters."
Smith's first casting decision was real-life partner Adam Overley in the title role.
"I've thought about it for years, as most actors who do any Shakespeare think about playing Hamlet," Overley said. "It's one of those things you wonder if you'll ever do. So when Serena suggested it and said she hoped I'd play that role, it was a pretty exciting moment. It's been a very different kind of thing to approach. First, because of the technical scale, the quantity of dialogue you have, so much to learn before you even get to the character himself. The writing helps. When I was going through and memorizing scene by scene, there were a lot of lines that would immediately give me an emotional response. As I'm approaching the role, one minute I find myself thinking, 'This guy is an a*****e' -- and then suddenly I'll see him as relatable and vulnerable and intensely human."
Serpiente regular Gina Gargone portrays Hamlet's mother. "This will be my second time playing Gertrude," Gargone said. "I first scored the role at the unripened age of 16 in my high school's production. I feel very confident disclosing that at that point in my life, I hadn't the slightest clue of the raging sea of emotions a reigning queen and mother could experience while grieving for a dead husband, marrying his brother and watching her son seemingly go mad. But in truth, even more than 20 years later, I'm still not sure I've even scratched the surface."
Jazzmine Freedom plays Hamlet's doomed love Ophelia. "Getting familiar with this play has been a such a rich and compelling experience," she said. "Each scene carries more depth and meaning than first meets the eye. The questions it presents about masculinity, grief and violence still feel intensely relevant today. I'm grateful for the opportunity to portray Ophelia, and I hope I can do justice both to her character and to the beautiful language in which she's written."
Noah Pettus plays the noble Laertes, brother to Ophelia and son of Polonius. "This will be my first real stage performance since I was in school," Pettus said. "The story is really great. I'm excited about the fight scenes that I am part of in the play. Serena is doing a a really great job with the script, and Hamlet is incredible. I'm very excited Taos gets to see this production."
The characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern provide comic relief and a running Greek chorus for the tragedy. Rosencrantz is played by Jessica Fitzgerald. "This is a welcome return to Shakespeare for me, and my third time working with this group of actors," Fitzgerald said. "Comedy is my favorite genre, and I can't help but bring a sense of irreverence to anything I work on, whether it's appropriate or not. It was great to see Serena's interpretation of these characters come to life, and I think a lot of her choices have not been done before."
The cast also features Joel Larson as Guildenstern, Scott Tennant as Hamlet's usurping uncle Claudius, Rich Greywolf as Polonius, Ryan Maestas as Hamlet's best friend, Horatio, and Ashley Turin as Marcellus.
"Scott as Claudius is so interesting, because he's a gentle person, a feeling, loving man who's also ambitious. He makes himself and Gertrude more sympathetic," Smith said. "Rich's Polonius is amazing. Jess and Joel are such a great comedy duo. Ryan brings something tender to Horatio and helps to humanize Hamlet. Noah brings something really beautiful to Laertes, and I love his relating with Jazzmine's Ophelia. Ashley's Marcellus is brilliant. And I love the way Gina's playing Gertrude, she's so sassy.
"Rich and Scott built the castle set from scratch, including an amazing throne. Noah Yacko is doing sound and lights, and Melia Paulden is stage managing. Travis Webb is doing our fight choreography. We're grateful to Saundra Bouchie for letting us use the Little Theatre and for being so supportive. And a big thank-you to Lily Sanborn and Jazzy Stoner for all of their work and help.
"Every Shakespeare play is a case study in being human, a case study in morality. What makes us human, what's really worth living for? I want people to come away with questions, and hopefully, the realization that there may not be one right answer."
Overley concluded, "What I really enjoy about Shakespeare in general, and especially a role with the weight and history that Hamlet has--there's something about speaking these lines that feels like tapping into a long lineage of people who've spoken these same lines and put work and thought into them. If you think about it, this is a human ritual centuries old."
Tickets at the door are $15, $12 students, seniors and educators. On Thursday (Nov. 15), tickets for students are $5. For more information visit teatroserpiente.com or call (575) 737-8574.
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