Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At Last, the Rep Goes Big with Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At Last, the Rep Goes Big with Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'

Article excerpt

Paul Mason Barnes, the go-to guy for Shakespeare at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, acknowledges that the current production poses a unique challenge.

The production is "Hamlet."

"It is intimidating," says Barnes, who's directed seven previous Rep shows. "It's a big play big in the size of its cast, big in its ideas. It's quite a ride."

That helps explain why the Rep, which marked its golden anniversary last season, has never before staged what is widely considered the greatest play in the English language.

"The stars aligned," Rep artistic director Steven Woolf says with a laugh, adding that the theater needed to have "the right amount of money and the right director. Paul has a gift for making a story clear and for keeping it moving.

"Paul points out that somebody in 'Hamlet' is always talking and when they speak, it's poetry. So you can't stop. This story is a train, always in motion."

There have been four recent London productions of the great drama about a Danish prince who learns (via ghost) that his uncle now his stepfather killed his actual father, the king.

Obliged to avenge the murder but hesitant to proceed, Prince Hamlet spends five acts making up his mind, an exercise involving seven soliloquies (including "O that this too solid flesh would melt," "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I" and, of course, "To be or not to be: that is the question.")

Add to all that encounters with his sweetheart, Ophelia, his mother, Gertrude, and his life in a court teeming with murderous schemes. It takes a little time; "Hamlet" is Shakespeare's longest play. And even though the London productions had been cut, Woolf says, each ran about four hours.

He told Barnes, "We're not doing that."

And indeed, Barnes has cut this "Hamlet" to under three hours a daunting assignment. "I cut 1,000 lines," he says. "When you cut a great piece of literature, you have to say to yourself, 'Who do you think you are?'

"But you also think, 'What's the audience's attention span? What's the turn-around time on a day with two performances?'

"So you go ahead, carefully. For me, it's about finding the spine of the play, about keeping its heart and its guts. …

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