Sarasota theater audiences have had the opportunity to experience many variations of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the last few years.
The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s New Stages presented a 45-minute version that toured to schools across the stage, while on the mainstage Hamlet became a bilingual “Prince of Cuba.” And at the Ringling International Arts Festival, the Wooster Group presented its “Hamlet” by juxtaposing the stage play with the 1964 film that starred Richard Burton.
Even with such variety, the Leev Theater Group’s “Hamlet, Prince of Grief,” a one-man show performed in Farsi with plastic toys, offers a vastly different take.
Afshin Hashemi stars in the play, directed by Mohammad Aghebati. They commented on the production through email, with an interpreter.
Q; How much of the story remains in this version?
A: (Agheabit): “The story is basically the same, it is just a different storytelling approach. The audience who has never read ‘Hamlet’ will get all the plot points as in the original work work. However, instead of having different actors perform different roles, the entire play is narrated through the eyes of one character in a monologue.”
Q: How do one person and plastic toys enhance our appreciation for the story and character?
A: (Agheabit): One of the beauties of the classic stories is their timeless quality. We can always find their relevance to our time and place. The classic text provides us with a unique opportunity to rethink our contemporary issues and examine them in a different light. For instance, Hamlet is not limited to a specific time or geography. One can see similar characters and themes such as treachery, revenge and moral corruption in any country or culture. And using the classic text in a different context allows the re-exploration of the story and reveals new layers of the story.
Q: What kind of challenge is this piece for Afshin?
A: (Actor Afshin Hashemi): “The biggest challenge was to deliver the entire play in a monologue, which is limiting and demanding. I had to play all the characters and be the only person on stage. Playing with the toys, I had to animate the lifeless toys and make each one unique and interesting. I also had to stay seated at all times during the entire play and not move from behind the table, so the play is physically restraining as well.
Q: What impact, if any does hearing the play in Farsi have on an American audience?
A: (Aghebati): Each language leaves a unique emotional impression on its audience. The fact that the American audience is not that exposed to Persian will in itself create a different experience. ‘Hamlet’ is a familiar play to English-speaking audiences and to hear it in a different language with its own emotional weight, guarantees a novel experience for the American audience.
What the critics said:
After a performance at the Under the Radar festival in New York in January, The New York Times wrote: “With dark, expressive eyes and a rich, versatile voice, Mr. Hashemi is a compelling presence, ably suggesting a man haunted by the agonizing tale he must recount.” It describes the play as a “stylized, eccentric riff on ‘Hamlet’ rather than a condensed version of the play, which is probably just as well. A half-hour trot through the text would probably come across as a joke, intentionally or not.”
“Hamlet, Prince of Grief” will be presented at 5 p.m. Thursday, 1 and 9 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday in the Cook Theatre, FSU Center. The play, in Farsi, runs about 30 minutes. Tickets are $30. 360-7399; ringling.org