This week we hear from Bill Iddings:
Odds are that I stand at least a Ghost of a chance of getting out of “Hamlet” with my dignity intact.
In the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of playwright William Shakespeare’s tragedy, the spirit of the title character’s murdered father is one of three — make that four — characters assigned to yours truly. The Ghost of “Hamlet” present is one of three — well, four — roles I’m playing in the spring 2010 show that opens on the deadline for filing income taxes, April 15, and runs through mid-May. I’m also stale hamming it up as the First Player, an egomanical actor — but I repeat myself — who later in “Hamlet” performs as the Player King in “The Mousetrap,” the play within the play wherein Hamlet (Scott Lange) intends to catch the conscience of his fratricidal uncle, King Claudius (Scott Wright). I lastly pop up as the Priest who gives Laertes (Kyle Walker), the lone survivor of his dwindling clan, some grave concerns over the burial of the young man’s suicidal sister, Ophelia (Amy McFadden). “Hamlet” is a tragedy, all right; Characters drop like flies gagging their last in a cloud of insecticide.
With rehearsals underway in Spring Lake at the West Michigan Academy of Arts & Academics, King Hamlet (guess who?) is dead before the first line is spoken. I mean, I’ve died on stage before — hey, I heard that — but usually I’ve first had a chance to make an entrance. This must be what happens when your reputation precedes you. Then the meddling Polonious (Laertes’ and Ophelia’s father, played by Joel L. Schindlbeck) shuffles off this mortal coil, stabbed in the back by Hamlet who’s disappointed to discover the old fool behind the arras and on the business end of his dagger isn’t Claudius, drat the luck. Ophelia follows, venturing into the “undiscovered country” by diving right into a swim she would have been better off taking while strapped in a life preserver. The Bard of Avon’s domino effect continues. Falling one after the other under William Shakespeare’s quilt pen are Queen Gertrude (Heather Folkvord), courtesy of potent poison in an ill-advised cocktail; and a hat trick of principals unfortunate enough to be nicked by a fencing sword, the tip of which has been dipped in said poison: Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet, you’re outta here.
For good measure, Claudius, who before “Hamlet” begins has poured a concoction akin to battery acid in the ears of his napping brother (guess who?), literally gets a taste of his own medicine. And let’s not forget about Hamlet’s goofball buddies, Rosencrantz (Brooke Heintz) and Guildenstern (Sarah Stark) who never should have accompanied the melancholy Dane back to England in the first place. Horatio (Kat Hermes) and Fortinbras (Jeff Otto) are the last men standing, even if only one of those actors is actually a male; time for the willing suspension of disbelief.
But be it at the Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Beardsley Theater in Muskegon or the parlor at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, the final body count will litter the stage with corpses, the clutter orchestrated by director Katherine Mayberry and fight choreographer Steven Schwall.
This time I’ll have eyes to take in all the carnage. “Hamlet” is my second production for Pigeon Creek, a professional troupe dedicated to breathing life into plays that were written four centuries ago. My first, last spring, was “King Lear.” In that adventure, my white-bearded Earl of Gloucester had a bloody bad time of things, getting my eyes plucked out by Regan (Kate Bode) and her husband (Randy S. Brown), both of whom got what was coming to them.
Take the word of Juan Whonose: Even if it’s only make believe, having your eyeballs ripped out of their sockets smarts, hence my howling to make blood curdle. Plus, afterward you suffer from CSSS: Can’t See S— Syndrome. Good thing we always had a box of wipes just off stage, usually around the spot where I exited by clanging into a folding chair or bumping into a wall.
Theater is not for wimps. It can, however,be for windbags, egos whose operational philosophy runs along the lines of, “That’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”
Not that I’m one to talk about myself.
Hey, I heard that.