"We've been taught Shakespeare in school and many of us have been hurt by those school experiences, so we go 'Oh my God, it's Shakespeare; really boring, really dull, words I don't understand, with people I can’t identify with,’” said John Henry Davis, a drama and video professor at LaGuardia Community College.
But for the last six months Davis, a director of theater and film productions that have been shown at Lincoln Center and on HBO, has worked tirelessly with students and faculty in the hopes of changing people’s minds about the classic play.
“I feel just the opposite they do, that the poetry can communicate to us in a different kind of way, in a different level than the normal sitcom and that it can actually be exciting and inspiring and real,” he said. “These people are going through real emotions and important things are happening to them, and I think that this is part of what people in the theater should be experiencing."
He pointed out that the whole beauty of “Hamlet” is that there is more to the story than what meets the eye. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears and tells his son to avenge his death by killing the king, turning Hamlet’s life upside down. Davis said Hamlet has been traditionally portrayed as purely a thinker when in reality he is a man of action who gets stymied by his circumstances.
“It's a family drama, like an intimate kitchen drama between a stepfather, a son, a mother, a dead father and Hamlet's girlfriend Ophelia,” said Davis. “It's like a little kitchen drama, but it's also a big epic piece about war and death and so forth.”
This is Davis’ first time directing “Hamlet,” but it’s been on his to-do list for a long time because the issues in the play are compelling and personal to him. Throughout the play, Hamlet grapples with relatable questions like, What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What are we doing here? What should we be doing here?
"Don’t we all have moments in our lives where we feel like we're communing with our dead parents, or don't we have moments when we see that evil is being done and we want to do something about it? And don't we have moments where we're trying to decide what to do and we can't figure out what to do because it's so hard to figure it out? These are the issues that Hamlet is about. That's why I chose Hamlet," said Davis.
The characters are played by LaGuardia students and faculty. Hamlet is portrayed by professional New York actor David Nash, who Davis hired as a guest artist after directing him in a production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
“Hamlet” will be performed in a space meant for no more than 70 audience members, but Davis believes there’s an upside to that kind of cramped intimacy. He likened it to a time he visited The Other Place, a space the Royal Shakespeare Company uses for small productions in England. Ian McKellan, cast as Iago in “Othello,” was literally standing two feet away.
“The immediacy of having the actors so close, I think, is very special and you don't see this very often, especially with the classics. I think this is an exciting opportunity for the community to see a really great production very close so they can feel the energy of the actors,” said Davis. ”There's a sword fight at the end, right close to the audience, very visceral, very exciting, and I think that it's going to be a real exciting, powerful experience in the theater, and everybody should see it."
“Hamlet,” directed by John Henry Davis, will be performed in room M 122 (Black Box Theater) on the following dates and times:
Sat, March 6 at 7:30pm
Tues, March 9 at 2:30pm
Wed, March 10 at 2:30pm
Thurs, March 11 at 7:30pm
Fri, March 12 at 7:30pm
Sat, March 13th at 7:30pm Admission is FREE of charge but reservations are required. For tickets call the box office at 718-482-5151. LaGuardia Community College is located at 31-10 Thomson Avenue in Long Island City.