James Napoleon Stone (Laertes), Meri Golden (Gurtrude), Arther Peden (Claudius) in Hamlet.
Photo by Studio Laguna Photography
As he prepared for his first foray as the prince of Denmark, Peter Beard realized something that actors over the centuries have noted about Shakespeare's Hamlet.
"It's a lot longer than I remember it," Beard says.
Young company Theatre Coup d'Etat has plenty of ambitions with the production, which runs through June 9 at the American Swedish Institute's Turnblad Mansion.
"It is one of the greatest achievements of western art. There is a reason it gets done so much," Beard says.
That doesn't mean everyone is familiar with the actual play. "Once we started promoting the show and talking to people, we were surprised how few people have seen the show. It is exciting to get those people who have no idea what the story is and get to come and experience it for the first time," Beard says.
The location is one of those ambitions. The audience will travel through the mansion to the ballroom, where the production will be presented. In other words, they get to travel through Elsinore on their way to the action. "You get the feeling of opulence. You feel like you are there," Beard says.
Then there's tackling the emotionally complex show itself. The company has opted with a group-directed approach. "It's an idea we've been kicking around. You are in the scene and I'm not. I'll direct this scene and you can direct a scene you are not in," says James Napoleon Stone, who plays Laertes.
"We have a really strong cast, and it has been really exciting to dig into that nerdy Shakespeare text stuff," Stone says.
While the entire cast has a hand in directing, Beard and Stone serve as the final voices for the show. The two share similar aesthetics and approaches to theater, Stone says.
Part of the challenge for Beard as Hamlet is to make a role that many great actors (and some not as great) have already played your own. "I have to step out of what has been made into a cliché about Hamlet," he says. "When you say those really famous words, they may think about Olivier or Tennant's Hamlet. How do you strip that away and get to what's going on with the character? It's the same thing you do for any role. It happens to be Hamlet, and there is a lot going on."
For the entire cast, maintaining the energy throughout the long show -- this version, with cuts, will run about three hours with two intermissions -- is of vital importance. One thing that will fuel is the layout. The action will play out to alley seating, and no one in the audience will ever be too far way.
Also, the minimal lighting means "there is no way to put the audience entirely in black. We will be able to connect with them and they will have to connect with us," Beard says.
May 22 through June 9
American Swedish Institute's Turnblad Mansion,
2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis
For information and tickets, visit online