The Rude Mechanicals present Hamlet


Directed by Jaki Demarest

Male characters

Hamlet is the best and worst of ourselves, trapped in a no-win scenario. He lacks, not passion, but the resolve and unconquerable will that would drive those passions forward. He despises himself, but it is profoundly necessary that we do not. He begins the play in a suicidal depression, cutting himself to feel something, willing the little pain to distract him. There is the eternal question of Hamlet's madness to contend with. His humor is manic, driven and a little painful to watch; his brilliant and tortured mind effortlessly outstrips the best minds around him. I believe Hamlet would love nothing more than madness and the freedom from responsibility that accompanies it. But in the end, I believe that freedom is denied him, one more thing he can't will himself into being.
Has a way of winning over the people he needs. Charisma and a certain dangerous sexuality. Think Bill Clinton. Beneath that comfortable armor, of course, is the same poisonous self-doubt that preys on Hamlet and keeps them both in a state of inaction and limbo.
The ghost of Hamlet's father. For all the hesitation and pensive melancholy in the son, the father had none of it. He was a man of profound and immediate purpose in life, and in death he carries with him a sense of overwhelming potency in spite of the helplessness of his situation. With his death, the state begins its decay and inevitable collapse.
The Player King
Has been an actor for longer than most of the people watching him have been alive. He grew up around the theater; his father was a stage hand for a touring company, and the family traveled all over Europe, poor, but generally happy. Michael Mousset, the Player King, got his first role at the age of seven, a messenger in "The Birds," and has only briefly left the stage since. It's a drug; he's addicted.
The Player Murderer
Alfred Dunne is the second-string actor, always one step behind Michael. Some days he resents it; other days are better. Alfred is really a better comic actor; he has a rubber face that plays badly in tragedies.

Female characters

Gertrude is desperately looking for herself. For years, her sense of self centered entirely around her husband, her son, and her role as the perfect wife, mother and queen. She was forty years old before she realized she'd never lived. It was easy to believe an affair with her husband's brother would free her, rejuvenate her, give her back something of the youth and life she'd spent buried. It's given her a certain feverish energy, burning her from within as she progresses to ever wilder extremes in search of her own identity, but it hasn't brought her happiness.
The roots of her eventual madness should be subtly apparent from her first scene with Laertes. Reckless, rebellious, a free spirit, her every impulse is ruthlessly stifled by the ambitious father she alternates between loving and hating. His death unhinges her and liberates all those dangerous impulses she could never have given way to while he was alive. Ophelia lacks the innate strength of character that would have allowed her to rise above her circumstances; there is about her the continual sense of drowning.
The Player Queen
Lila Mousset married Michael Mousset young. Their tempestuous marriage lasted about ten years, and produced three children. During those years, she became well known enough in Europe that she can't afford to change her name, which makes her current husband, Alfred Dunne, less than entirely cheerful. Lila and Alfred have a placid, loving, contented marriage, but she still has an outrageous amount of chemistry with Michael. In terms of characterization, Lila is the aging but still beautiful grande dame of the Players. A little neurotic, a little hungry for attention and approbation, smiles at herself in the mirror every morning to see just how bad the lines under her eyes are going to be today. Takes that as an indicator for how the rest of the day is going to go.

Characters that could be male or female

Cold, controlling, powermongering, emotionally isolated. Ambitious. Masterminded the killing of King Hamlet, and provided the poison. His aim in this isn't the furthering of Claudius' ambitions, but his own; if Claudius and Hamlet can be goaded into destroying each other, Polonius has his own blood claim to the throne and can stake it after the competition is finished eliminating itself for him. A clever politician who finally gets tripped up in his own cleverness, and encounters in Hamlet the one person at the Danish court more dangerously intelligent than he is.
It would be easy to play off Laertes as Polonius Jr., a stuffed shirt in training, and it would be the worst of all possible mistakes to do so. I think his love for Ophelia humanizes him, and I believe it's there we have to focus our efforts. His advice to Ophelia could be pomposity and excessive concern for the family's reputation, or it could be genuine love and worry for the sister he grew up teasing and protecting. I'd like our choices for Laertes to reflect the more human and empathetic interpretations of his character. Where Hamlet is all hesitation, intellect and indecision, Laertes is all fire. He is, unfortunately, easily manipulated in his grief, and sinks to increasingly desperate and dishonorable acts in his search for vengeance.
Nihilistic and self-sacrificing, and the only character who genuinely knows what it is to love. He loves Hamlet, beyond reason and self-interest, and without hope that that love will ever be returned in kind. Of any character in this play, Horatio is easily my favorite.
A kinsman to Hamlet and Claudius, he begins as Hamlet's loyal partisan. He may not end that way; I'd like to play with some ideas on his betraying Hamlet. If he does so, he does so because he genuinely believes Hamlet to be mad, a murderer and no fit King for Denmark. Marcellus is a staunch conservative, starchy, honorable, and a genuinely good man.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Hamlet were friends from the days of their childhood. The grew up together, hit puberty together, cracked up a couple of expensive sportscars together, snuck beers and joints together in the stables. They're rich, pretty, spoiled, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are ambitious enough to be willing to sell Hamlet out to his uncle. If I don't differentiate them, it's because I want to leave that work at least partially to whomever I cast there.
The Gravedigger
Sardonic and quick-witted, a comic masterpiece of a role. The trick with this one lays in the timing; don't rush it. This isn't patter, this is caviar. The Gravedigger is the one character in the play able to match wits with Hamlet and win, and there has to be that visible sense of camaraderie and enjoyment in each other.
The Prince of Norway. His father was killed in honorable single combat by Hamlet's father in the last war. When everyone with a direct claim to the throne of Denmark dies in the last scene, Fortinbras affects a bloodless coup and assumes power. He is open-handed and generous in his victory, even manages not to look too cheerful about it. But he was, in effect, there to take power by force and avenge his father and his family's honor. In place of the cheerful, charismatic, corrupt and liberal Claudius, Denmark has a dictator. Fortinbras will be strong, resolute, conservative, and a travesty of a human being.