Entertainment Writing: Hamlet at The Hipp

Nations are founded on it. Migos named an album after it. Culture, though, is more than a collection of norms and practices. It looks back on the traditions of bygone eras, giving us a glimpse into the minds of some of humanity's most enlightened creatives. Be it in the form of a concert or a play, culture offers people an escape from their everyday lives; writers are there to help them find it.

To view this piece as it was originally published by The Gainesville Sun, please click here.

Michael Eaddy / Michael A. Eaddy Photography (Splash image credit: The Hippodrome State Theatre)

Michael Eaddy / Michael A. Eaddy Photography (Splash image credit: The Hippodrome State Theatre)

Hamlet is seething.

In a fit of rage, he sends his mother, Gertrude, tumbling to the floor. He stands over her menacingly, launching into a raving monologue.

But not before pulling out his iPhone.

Slated for a month-long run at The Hippodrome, Shakespeare’s classic “Hamlet” tells a tale we’re all familiar with. But despite the original script’s prevalence in modern culture, the play’s production team saw an opportunity to give it a contemporary update.

“The thing about Shakespeare is that ... (his plays) are still so universal,” director Lauren Warhol Caldwell said. “That’s why he is so brilliant. ... He gives you permission to do what you want to do with his words.”

In the works for nearly two years, Warhol Caldwell decided to modernize her take on the play after repeatedly reading, re-reading and researching the original text. And while she sought to strip the play of any political leaning, she believes that Shakespeare’s timeless work is as applicable now as ever — especially in the wake of a contentious presidential election.

“Any great play ... is a reflective mythology,” lead actor Michael Littig said. “It’s a place where you go and you see yourself in it at any given time.”

Either yourself, or your reality.

Warhol Caldwell’s directorial vision hinges on the conflict between revenge and omnipotence. Corruption is a central theme in her overhaul: It finds itself at the heart of Hamlet’s struggle to reconcile his desire to avenge his father with his need to fulfill a higher calling.

Noting the marked divisions in the American political landscape, Warhol Caldwell drew parallels between Hamlet’s environment and the current state of the nation. However, she believes that the play could have easily been adapted to a number of different eras. From the ’20s to the ’40s, to the ’50s and beyond, she thinks that flexibility is part of what makes Hamlet so relatable.

“We’re living in a world where it’s weighted on both sides,” she said. “And that’s just like Hamlet.”

In spite of the play’s governmental overtones, actors and directors alike aren’t looking to convey any particular message.

Art has the ability to heal, however, and in Warhol Caldwell’s mind, “Hamlet” has the opportunity to spark discussion about the country’s skepticism towards the federal government.

In turn, that dialogue could begin the trek toward restoring that trust.

“Every Hamlet you do is the same story,” V Craig Heidenreich, cast as Claudius, said, ”(but) the world which it inhabits can change drastically.

“That’s how the audience has the opportunity to come into it.”