Hamlet's new attitude: 'The Elsinore Diaries' updates story with fast-paced acting
BY LAURA ZAICHKIN, THE OLYMPIAN
Harlequin Productions is giving Hamlet a new twist this month with "The Elsinore Diaries."
"The Elsinore Diaries" is the story of Hamlet, but altered and modernized, with the traditional characters taking on new attitudes and the entire play presented as a British Broadcasting Corp.-like documentary. The production begins today at the State Theater and runs for two weeks before moving to Seattle's Center Theatre for another two-week run.
"This is to Hamlet as Spinal Tap is to rock and roll," said director Scot Whitney. "It's basically the story of Hamlet, but with interviews."
Whitney calls it fast-paced and funny; the 73-scene play has seven actors in 23 roles.
"We have 40 quick changes," Whitney said. "It really cranks up the adrenaline and crazy factor."
Frank Lawler, co-writer and actor in "The Elsinore Diaries," agrees that the show has a frantic feel that the audience will be able to sense because of the number of roles each actor has to take on.
"Sometimes the costume changes have to take place in 30 seconds," Lawler said.
Lawler has 17 of the 40 quick changes, and he said the cast probably won't have the changes down to a science until the last minute, when stopping the play to change won't be an option.
The characters, while basically still the traditional Hamlet personalities, will be a change from what audiences are used to. Lawler said he and the two other writers framed the play by asking themselves, "What if the characters were very different from how they've been presented?"
"We found there's a lot of opportunity for humor there," he said.
Lawler said there is enough pop culture and humor that even those who don't know Hamlet will enjoy the play, but he said having some background is a benefit.
"It wouldn't hurt to either watch one of the film versions of Hamlet or read the play," Lawler said. "But it isn't necessary, it just increases the enjoyment."
"The Elsinore Diaries" is the first major show Lawler has written. He and the two other writers -- Jason Marr and Daniel Flint, who also acts in "The Elsinore Diaries" -- met when they were cast in Harlequin's "The Lonesome West" in 2002. The three decided to write the play while they were commuting from Seattle to Olympia.
"We got talking about writing and about theater and about Hamlet," Lawler said. They decided on a parody.
Lawler and the other writers wrote the play in March and April of 2003. A shortened, lower-tech version was presented at the 2003 Seattle Fringe Festival, and there was a staged reading at the State Theater in the spring of 2004.
Lawler said he's excited to act in a show that he helped write and that there are benefits to being on both sides of the curtain.
"I like to joke that if I can't remember a line, that I claim that I've spontaneously rewritten it," he said. "That's the advantage."