If the word Hamlet makes you think, Mel Gibson; if you’ve heard of Othello but never seen it; if you know there are witches in Macbeth but aren’t sure what they do ... then the gang at The Vineyard Playhouse has a tempting offer for you: give them an evening and they’ll give you the Bard — free of charge.
The playhouse has an exciting new project staging Shakespeare that isn’t “summer-amphitheatre” fare. Beginning this weekend with two performances of Hamlet, a troupe will present lively staged readings of Shakespeare plays, with judicious cuts (and some cheeky contemporary comments) that put the focus on the story and its characters. And although it’s script-in-hand, expect to see some action (the famous duel in Act 5 will be performed by two actors skilled in stage combat).
While not farcical like the Reduced Shakespeare Company — a hit in the amphitheatre for several summers — this new project has a similar mission. That is: make Shakespeare accessible and engaging to all, remove the aura of elitism and foppery associated with “classical theatre,” and show new audiences that above all, the Bard was a spinner of wicked-good tales.
Chelsea McCarthy (a perennial on Island stages) and Nicole Galland (director of this past summer’s As You Like It) have prepped Hamlet and are already halfway through editing Macbeth. “In our wildest dreams, the Hamlet goes so well that we can turn around and do the Scottish play [Macbeth] for Halloween, since it’s full of ghosts and witches,” says Ms. McCarthy. “If not Halloween, then sometime soon.”
If these are well-received, the troupe has its collective eye on Othello, King Lear, Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and King John.
And beyond that? “Well, I know M.J. (M.J. Bruder Munafo, artistic director and producer of the playhouse) has a thing for Antony and Cleopatra,” Ms. Galland muses. “We can do any of it, really. A staged reading is so much easier and more affordable than a full production, and when it’s done right — with a good sense of story-telling, with a cheeky sense of wit, with enough physicality to keep it interesting — it’s a very satisfying experience for the audience.”
The idea for doing script-in-hand Shakespeare in the off-season was born this past summer, during conversations between Ms. Galland, Ms. McCarthy and Alexandra London-Thompson (who, like Ms. McCarthy, was in As You Like It). “There’s a group of talented actors around, who’ve worked together and know each other really well,” explains Ms. Galland. “When you’ve got that kind of collective chemistry, you only need one day of totally focused, dedicated rehearsal to get a great performance.”
The troupe (some of whom are not in Hamlet but will appear in later plays) as yet lacks an official name but is being produced by the playhouse as Shakespeare for the Masses: Quick and Painless and Free.
Ms. Galland praises Ms. Munafo for producing the project under the playhouse’s aegis. In addition to Ms. McCar-thy and Ms. Galland, and Scott Barrow in the lead role, Hamlet will feature Katherine Pilcher, Mac Young, Paul Munafo, Molly Purves, Brian Ditchfield, Brooke Hardman Ditchfield, Amy Sabin, Chris Kann, and Geneva Monks.
The staged reading of Hamlet will be performed free at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11, and Sunday, Oct. 12, at the Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church street in Vineyard Haven. For details, call 508 -696-6300.