WILKES-BARRE —“After February, if I died, it would be OK,” Scott Colin said.
The actor from Larksville isn’t expecting his imminent demise; he’s just realizing a life-long ambition to play Hamlet.
He’s wanted to portray the complex, melancholy Prince of Denmark since shortly after he found “The Complete Guide to Shakespeare” in his grandmother’s closet and started reading it, at age 8 or 9. “About the age my son is now,” Colin said.
Director David Parmelee has placed the setting of Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre’s Jan. 22-31 production in a Newport, Rhode Island, mansion during the Jazz Age of the 1920s, and Colin will deliver soliloquies while live musicians play jazz on saxophone, clarinet, flute and piano.
So much the better, Colin said of the non-traditional elements. “I love it.”
Enthusiasm has been building as well among the rest of the cast, who point with delight to the casting of the character Guildenstern as a woman who may be Hamlet’s old girlfriend.
“It adds some sexual tension that you wouldn’t have if Guildenstern was a man,” said Emily Thomas, whose face gets a tender caress from the prince as he demands to know why she and his other old pal, Rosenkrantz, have suddenly arrived. Could they be spies sent by the queen his aunt/mother and the king his uncle/father?
Hamlet refers to his closest family members that way because, as the ghost of his father has revealed to him, his uncle murdered his father and shortly thereafter married Hamlet’s mother. That could be enough to drive a sensitive young man mad. But is Hamlet crazy, or just pretending?
He’s definitely depressed, Colin said, and probably would be even if his father hadn’t died at his uncle’s hand.
“He’s always brooding and complaining. He doesn’t like being wealthy and doesn’t like the responsibility of one day being king. He wishes he could be (his friend) Horatio.”
“If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want her to be involved with him,” Walter Mitchell of Bear Creek Village said, joking as if he were talking about Colin in real life. In his role as the courtier Polonius, Mitchell does warn his daughter, Ophelia, to disassociate herself from the prince.
Alas for that character, played by Deirdre Lynch, she really loves Hamlet — and she’s doomed.
“They’re kindred spirits, both kind of on the outskirts,” Lynch said. “Hamlet lost his father; Ophelia lost her mother, and one by one she loses everyone she could turn to for support.”
Speaking of Ophelia, director Parmelee said, many productions give her an activity, such as sewing, with which she occupies herself before her untimely end. In the Little Theatre production, Lynch will be folding origami flowers.
Shakespeare scholar June Schlueter, a professor emerita from Lafayette College in Easton, said she’s looking forward to seeing Little Theatre’s “Jazz Hamlet” and participating in an audience talkback after the Jan. 24 matinee.
Remembering how, decades ago, she refused on principle to see Peter Brook’s staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” simply because the director had put actors on a trapeze, she said she has changed her mind completely.
“I’m no longer a purist about Shakespeare,” she said. ” I think his plays just invite different interpretations and every production answers different questions.”
Jazz seems especially well-suited to Hamlet’s character, she added. “There’s a kind of improvisation that jazz suggests, and Hamlet seems to be improvising as he goes along.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Jazz Hamlet’
When: Opens with buy-one-get-one-free preview 8 p.m. Jan. 22. Continues Jan. 23-31 with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Little Theatre, 537 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre