Like a show opening with a band's greatest hit, Tarell Alvin McCraney's radical edit of William Shakespeare's Hamlet begins with the master's most famous phrase of his most famous soliloquy: "To be or not to be."
And off we go, into a 90-minute, one-act version that gets right to the point and never stops -- the closest we might have to a Jerry Bruckheimer production of Hamlet. And it makes its regional American premiere this weekend at GableStage.
"We came up with something that is pretty fast, but also condensed all the pivot points that you know of in Hamlet," McCraney says. "It's what we call the action-thriller version of Hamlet."
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"It's a blitzkrieg," adds Edgar Sanchez, who plays Hamlet in the GableStage production. "It feels like an action movie from the beginning. We don't waste time on any other plot line except Hamlet's. There isn't that feeling of delay... There's a feeling of obstacles in front of Hamlet."
McCraney, a 32-year-old graduate of Yale, DePaul, and, before that, Miami's New World School of the Arts, developed his condensed take on Hamlet in 2010 while an artist-in-residence at Warwickshire's Royal Shakespeare Company. Seeking a small-scale, pared-down version that could tour the United Kingdom with ease and efficiency, McCraney and Gregory Doran, artistic director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, decided to explore the fast-paced first quarto, or Q1, draft of Hamlet -- an early version of the play, published around 1603, that is more than 1,600 lines shorter than the folio version that is most often produced. But because the first quarto is considered an inferior version, McCraney remixed everything into a new vision for Shakespeare's play that trims the fat while retaining its poetic beauty.