The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

March 15, 2014

Hamlet at the EKU Center for the Arts Wednesday

RICHMOND — Hamlet may be a Renaissance play about a young man coming of age in the Middle Ages, but the human issues the Shakespearean characters face are timeless.

That’s why the Bard’s plays continue to be performed daily around the world nearly 400 years after his death, said Ian Belknap, artistic director of The Acting Company, which brings its traveling production of Hamlet to the EKU Center for the Arts on Wednesday.

The issues of life and death, becoming an adult, dealing with the loss of a father, the remarriage of a mother, the choice of a mate and dealing with in-laws are all explored in Hamlet, Belknap said in a phone interview with the Richmond Register.

Many of the issues taken up by pioneering psychologists and existentialist philosophers in the 19th and 20th century are presaged in Shakespeare’s work, especially Hamlet, he added.

However, those who think Shakespeare’s tragedies are too heavy or dark to be entertaining should remember the Bard always included comedy in his tragedies as well as near-tragedy in his comedies.

The Acting Company’s productions bring that out, he said, and audiences around the country, including many college towns, often find that surprising, Belknap said.

There can be a dark tinge to the humor, however. When asked the whereabouts of the slain Polonius, Hamlet says he is at dinner. However, Polonius is not eating, the central character explains. He’s being eaten.

Hamlet’s turning of the tables on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, bringing about their demise instead of his, is the ultimate practical joke that would have gotten a good laugh from the Elizabethan audience.

Those who see Hamlet as indecisive are mistaken, Belknap said he believes.

He’s quite calculating and determined, the director said, but realizes the consequences of violence. Although Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, are famous for their fight scenes, the message is always the tragic outcome of violence.

Polonius understands how calculating Hamlet is when he notes the “method” in his “madness,” Belknap said.

Although many attempts have been made in recent decades to present Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary settings, Wednesday’s performance will be set in the Elizabethan era with period-style costumes, the director said.

Up into the mid-20th century, producers often used middle-aged actors to play young Shakespeare characters. But Hamlet will be played by John Skelley, who at 29 is already a veteran Shakespeare performer and the age at which the leading character is depicted in the script, Belknap said.

Skelly grew up in suburban Minneapolis and studied theater at the University of Minnesota, he said in a separate phone interview the Register. He was fortunate to pursue a stage career near his hometown with the Guthrie Theater.

Belknap, who has directed Skelly in Shakespeare previously, picked him in advance for the role.

After his marriage in April, Skelly and his wife plan on moving to New York in June, where he hopes to find even more acting outlets for his talent. While the stage will continue to be his focus, Skelly said he’d also like to expand his range in New York, including work in film and television.

The internet is changing the theater, just as it is changing other media, Skelly said, and he will look for opportunities there as well.

Wednesday’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit or call 622-7469. 

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