Hamlet, the play that began Shakespeare for Masses, reprised

Scott Barrow and Amy Sabin Barrow in a 2011 performance of "Measure for Measure." — Photo courtesy of Shakespeare for the Masses

Perhaps the most revered of Shakespeare’s works, “Hamlet,” was the play that launched the popular Shakespeare for the Masses series of abbreviated staged readings five years ago. Now co-producers Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Gallant will reprise the classic tragedy for their third outing of this season’s repertoire.

At this point, the co-creators of the series have considerably honed their editing skills. The inaugural performance in 2008 ran 2½; hours, contradicting one third of the series’s original tagline — “Quick, Painless and Free.” This time around, Ms. Galland and Ms. McCarthy have reduced the three-plus-hour running time of the play to a manageable one hour. Says Ms. McCarthy, “This time through we just sliced and diced and really tried to keep the core of what ‘Hamlet’ is all about while leaving in all the classic lines.”

Hamlet contains some of the most oft-quoted speeches and lines from the entire Shakespeare canon. In this one play alone are found the lines “Get thee to a nunnery, The play’s the thing, the lady doth protest too much, to thine own self be true and, well, the list goes on and on and on. Then of course — there’s the most famous speech in all of drama — the soliloquy that begins “To be or not to be” which Ms. Galland explains will be explored (no doubt in a humorous fashion) in the opening introduction.

Of the classic Shakespeare speeches, Ms. Galland says, “We try to keep them intact but make sure they’re cushioned by low-brow or audience-friendly bits so that people don’t feel like, ‘Oh my god, I’m stuck in this thing that I don’t understand.'”

Audience-friendly is an apt description of the Shakespeare for the Masses versions of the works of the Bard. Given the group’s reputation, packed into the upcoming abbreviated Hamlet there is sure to be action and plenty of hamming and other silliness, plus the explanatory narration by Ms. Galland which always manages to be equally parts informative and funny. “Last time we over explained,” says Ms. McCarthy, “We have a lot more faith in ourselves and Shakespeare’s storytelling and, more importantly, our audiences.”

“Now we really use the folio [narrator] for comedy and as a device to skip through giant chunks of stuff.”

One thing that is key to guiding an audience through the often difficult language is having a trained Shakespearean actor who is well-versed in the material. For this production, the Shakespeare for the Masses team is fortunate to have the accomplished Scott Barrow on hand to play Hamlet.

Mr. Barrow, who also played the lead in the 2008 production, has an impressive resumé that includes Broadway, off Broadway, regional theater and TV work. Long time summer residents, Mr. Barrow and his wife, the actress Amy Sabin, settled permanently on the Island just this past April.

While living in Brooklyn, Mr. Barrow worked with a number or prestigious theater organizations as a writer, performer, fight choreographer, and teacher. He was part of the writing team and cast of the Tony award-winning play “33 Variations” starring Jane Fonda. Mr. Barrow has also written half a dozen adaptations and original plays that have been included in educational programs and have been produced as staged readings. He is an avid Bardophile, as he puts it, who has performed in numerous Shakespeare productions and has taught Shakespeare.

Says Ms. McCarthy, “What’s great about Scott is that he’s already very familiar with the play. Hamlet is such a massive, massive talker. To be able to have an actor who has really done the work makes such a difference. Scott also has a delight of irreverence. That makes him willing to screw around with Hamlet.”

Others in the cast include a handful of performers from the original Shakespeare for the Masses production. Ms. Sabin, who had a small role last time around, will be playing Hamlet’s love interest, Ophelia, in this production. Mr. Barrow, Ms. Sabin, and the other cast members are all Shakespeare for the Masses veterans and many have substantial acting credentials. “We have such a psychotically talented pool of actors,” says Ms. McCarthy.

Of Shakespeare’s works, Hamlet is a favorite of both Ms. McCarthy and Ms. Galland, although Ms. Galland notes that it is a difficult play to stage. “It’s a little bit like War and Peace,” she says, “in that it’s so brilliant on so many levels. Whether it’s the soap opera elements or the philosophy, everything about it is just so brilliant.

“It’s bigger than we are. The whole point is to knock it off its pedestal.”