Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Hamlet' to Be at Metro Park, Starting Today

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Hamlet' to Be at Metro Park, Starting Today

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel, Times-Union staff writer

To watch or not to watch?

That was the question facing Matt Hemphill as he prepared for the lead role -- perhaps the greatest role for any actor, ever -- in Hamlet, this year's Shakespeare at the Met production in Jacksonville.

Hemphill, 32, a busy veteran of the Jacksonville theater scene, says he'd never seen Hamlet before -- not more than a few snippets here and there, anyway.

So would he go back and watch Olivier, Branagh and Gibson? Heck, would he go over to watch his friend Devlin Mann in another production of Hamlet performed in Jacksonville during the summer?

Not a chance -- not when he had an opportunity to make this Hamlet his and his alone, along, of course, with considerable input from director Lester Thomas Shane.

"I just felt I didn't want anyone else's Hamlet, even if it was Richard Burton or Laurence Olivier, to influence what I was going to do," Hemphill said. "I feel like the decisions I've had have been mine. It's been the cast, the director and me, working together."

Hamlet, which is produced by Theatre Jacksonville, opens tonight at Metropolitan Park near Alltel Stadium. It's this year's offering at Shakespeare at the Met, which has become a popular event on the city's cultural calendar each September.

Hamlet is directed by New Yorker Lester Thomas Shane, a director, writer and actor who directed The Tempest last year in Jacksonville.

Shane began work on Hamlet shortly after The Tempest's run was finished, jumping at the chance to direct what most call Shakespeare's greatest tragedy -- the first Hamlet to be produced for Shakespeare at the Met.

"Who in the theater doesn't want to work on Hamlet?" said Shane. "The acting demands are really extraordinary. Luckily we're blessed. I've seen a lot of productions of Hamlet in my life. …

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