For a quarter century, Jupiter has been at the center of murderous plots, unrequited love, cuckoldry, mythical mysteries, and all around criminal mischief. A reference to the daily police blotter this is not; rather the Bard of Avon, Mr. William Shakespeare himself and his fabulous flair for the dramatic. On July 9, when the lights dim at Carlin Park’s Seabreeze Amphitheatre, Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival will (figuratively) raise curtain on 25 years of Shakespeare by the Sea. And the play worthy of such an occasion? Why Hamlet of course.
“A quarter of a century of any theater company, to be running successfully, especially in South Florida, is no mean feat,” said Elizabeth Dashiell, producer of PBSF and this year’s production. “When looking back, we said we needed something that will definitely mark this very important milestone.”
This year’s Shakespeare by the Sea production, Hamlet, is set in present day to “show the modern relevance of Shakespeare’s works.”
The only other time PBSF performed Hamlet was at another milestone, 15 years ago for their tenth anniversary season. And though they have returned to the Shakespearean well for 25, this is certainly the first for this adaptation, helmed by technical director Trent Stephens, a PBSF veteran but first-time director of Shakespeare by the Sea.
Starting out with the company as an actor, after pursuing a degree in theater, he returned to the PBSF with an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which PBSF produced earlier this year at both Palm Beach Gardens and Miami’s Pinecrest Gardens. Currently a teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, Stephens has returned to Jupiter to take on the role of technical director of Hamlet, giving the play his own unique twist.
“His take, I think, is definitely going to impress a lot of people,” said Dashiell. “He is doing an absolutely phenomenal job taking it to this modern, edgy level.”
PBSF has long been known for its adaptations of Shakespeare’s works—not so much changing the work itself, but perhaps shifting the time frame, such as last year’s Much Ado About Nothing set in modern-day Venice, or 2012’s Twelfth Night, where the characters arrived on the deserted island via plane crash, a la Lost. Like Stephens’ adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his Hamlet picks up the pace, adding a quickness of dialogue and exchange between characters without losing that angst and brooding nature of the play. Added to that, this year Hamlet and friends find themselves in a contemporary world, where characters like Rosancrantz and Guildenstern use today’s ever-present technology (smart phones), while the set itself, once again imagined and created by scenic designer Daniel Gordon, takes on an almost Ms. Havisham-esque tone, playing on the mood of the play itself.
A scene from Stephens’ adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“His concept is another winner,” says Dashiell, adding, “it evokes a once former grandeur, [while] expressing the closeness of all these characters and some of their moods. You’ll pick up with some of the stage elements that this is a fine old family. But there is definitely something rotten in Denmark. It is a kind of decay from the inside out.”
All that said, this is still Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare’s greatest, most powerful play, the tragedy has easily bridged the 400-year-old gulf from time written to this current adaptation. At its core, Hamlet is many things: a play of family, lies and deceit, madness, revenge, mortality, religion; or, in other words, the human condition.
“Humans are humans, with all of the graces, quirks, and our fallibilities,” said Dashiell. “All these little elements that we add to the production, or set in the production, all they really do is highlight how Shakespeare wrote about the human condition. That is something that 500 years ago to 500 years from now will not change.”
- Catch the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival’s twenty-fifth anniversary of Shakespeare by the Sea at Jupiter’s Carlin Park. Hamlet will take the Seabreeze Amphitheatre, Thursday through Sunday, July 9-12 and 16-19. Gates open at 6:30 with curtain at 8 p.m.; admission is free (a $5 donation is suggested). Theatregoers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and refreshments.
Looking for more Shakespearean fun with the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival? Thriller Radio Theatre will once again pipe anxiety-ridden tales directly to you with upcoming podcasts—visit pbshakespeare.org/thriller-radio-theatre for past and upcoming performances.
PBSF will once again return to Palm Beach Gardens during the height of season for an original production. Details will be forthcoming at pbshakespeare.org.