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American Stage transports 'Hamlet' to the 21st century

DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Gabriel Vaughan, 29, plays the title role of the brooding Dane in Shakespeare’s Hamlet at American Stage in downtown St. Petersburg.

DIRK SHADD | Times Gabriel Vaughan, 29, plays the title role of the brooding Dane in Shakespeare’s Hamlet at American Stage in downtown St. Petersburg.


The shirtless young man, alone in his room, broods over his laptop, at once

connected and isolated. He is mourning his murdered father and trying to decide whether he

believes the murderer is his uncle, who has since married the young man's mother and moved into the family home, usurping his dead father's rightful place.

In this case, the fractured family's home is truly its castle, and the young man is not some tormented TV teenager from the O.C., but Prince Hamlet of Denmark, Shakespeare's melancholy Dane. He still speaks the bard's incomparable words, but American Stage has uprooted him from the 16th century and planted him here in the 21st.

Shakespeare's longest play, and to this day one of his most popular and most often staged, has been trimmed a bit, too, producing what American Stage's Todd Olson calls "tragedy by velocity."

"Our Hamlet is true to the work and the playwright," Olson said during a brief break in rehearsals, "but we've tailored it for a modern audience, something we think Shakespeare himself did" from time to time as circumstances demanded.

Olson, American Stage's producing artistic director for the past five years and director of this Hamlet, shortened Shakespeare's original from about 4,000 lines to 3,000, yielding a playing time of about 2 1/2 hours instead of the original four. The era, the props and some of the costumes have changed, Olson said, but the classic tale of madness and tragedy upon tragedy is all Shakespeare.

"There's a danger in going overboard with changes," Olson said, "and we haven't. This is simply a leaner Hamlet, better suited to modern attention spans. The original moves fast, but our production moves faster. Everything and everyone is swept up in waves of revenge. There's no time to stop and talk about it."

American Stage has a history of

adapting the English-speaking world's most famous playwright for its Shakespeare in the Park series, often setting it to music.

"When we moved Shakespeare indoors to the main stage," Olson said, "we decided to dive into another part of the canon, to stage more personal and intense productions, starting last year with Othello."

Few of Shakespeare's characters are more intense than Hamlet. To play him, American Stage has brought in New York-based actor Gabriel Vaughan, who has played Hamlet before. He has made something of a specialty of Shakespeare's work, also appearing in productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and The Tempest.

Lost in a dark study over his skull-ornamented laptop or sword fighting in a black leather motorcycle jacket on stage in St. Petersburg, Vaughan looks the part. The cast also features American Stage veterans Katherine Michelle Tanner, Jessica Peterson, Steven Clark Pachosa and T. Scott Wooten.

John Bancroft is a freelance writer who lives in Bradenton.



The play opens Friday and runs through March 30, with previews Wednesday and Thursday, at American Stage, 211 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. Tickets ($22 to $35) are available by phone at (727) 823-7529 or online at Student rush tickets ($10), if available, go on sale 30 minutes before curtain.

American Stage transports 'Hamlet' to the 21st century 03/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:00am]
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