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Asolo Repertory Theatre takes on Shakespeare in two languages with 'Hamlet, Prince of Cuba'

Gertrude (Mercedes Herrero), left, and Hamlet (Frankie J. Alvarez) in Asolo’s Hamlet, Prince of Cuba.

Photo by Gary W. Sweetman

Gertrude (Mercedes Herrero), left, and Hamlet (Frankie J. Alvarez) in Asolo’s Hamlet, Prince of Cuba.

Michael Donald Edwards, artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre, figures the company will make history on Thursday when it stages Hamlet in a new Spanish translation by Nilo Cruz. It's an adaptation by Edwards called Hamlet, Prince of Cuba that the Sarasota theater has been performing in English since March.

"When we open this show in Spanish, we will be the first theater company to do a great Shakespeare play in two languages with the same company of actors," said Edwards, director of the production. "Everybody is pumped. We all know we're attempting something rare."

Edwards was inspired to do a bilingual Hamlet by the Florida actors he knows who are fluent in English and Spanish, such as Frankie J. Alvarez, the 27-year-old Cuban-American in the title role. "It's only possible because we live in this unique cultural melting pot that is Florida, where a great many of its citizens, their first language is Spanish," the director said. "An actor like Frankie represents the future in many ways."

For Edwards, an experienced Shakespearean, Hamlet was the best play to present bilingually "because it's the greatest play written and its story is about the destructive power of revenge on two families. That seemed really apropos to the Cuban-American story, which is as complicated and irrational as any family dynamic I can imagine."

The Asolo adaptation is set in Cuba in 1898, and Edwards has worked in references such as the Afro-Cuban santeria religion in scenes with the ghost of Hamlet's father. He cut the text. "I wanted it to be a short and rather active event," the director said.

The Spanish translation by Cruz, a Cuban-American whose Anna in the Tropics won the Pulitzer Prize, does not attempt to duplicate the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare. "Here is a Hamlet in a Cuba that allows him to break from the prism of rhymes to embrace the dark sounds of his restless soul," the playwright said in an essay.

On Tuesday, the cast rehearsed Hamlet, Prince of Cuba in Spanish in the afternoon, then gave a performance of the play in English at night.

"To do Hamlet in the first place is already a ridiculously challenging task," Edwards said. "There can only be attempts to do Hamlet; it can never be fully actualized, which is why we keep doing it. Then to attempt it in another language is a bit mad."

Performances in Spanish, with English supertitles, are at 8 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Saturday. $26-$69. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolorep.org.

Phanatics: Fans of The Phantom of the Opera would enjoy performances this week of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical by the theater department at the Pinellas County Center of the Arts, the arts magnet program at Gibbs High School, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg. More than 120 students are involved in the production, which caps the career of theater department administrator Ralph Nurmela, who is retiring after 25 years with the school system. 8 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday in the Building 4 Grand Theatre on the Gibbs campus. $10, $20. (727) 893-5452.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Asolo Repertory Theatre takes on Shakespeare in two languages with 'Hamlet, Prince of Cuba' 05/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 7:08pm]

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