Tarell Alvin McCraney has a major Shakespearean production in the works, a set-in-Haiti adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra. The big-buzz, big-budget show will bring artists from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Public Theater and GableStage together in a drama that will play Stratford-upon-Avon, New York and Miami starting in late fall.
But first things first: South Florida audiences can get a taste of McCraney’s way with the works of William Shakespeare when the playwright-director’s 90-minute adaptation of Hamlet opens at GableStage at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The young playwright and the National Theatre’s Bijan Sheibani first adapted Hamlet when the Miami-raised McCraney was International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The idea was to pare down Shakespeare’s longest play to amp up its appeal to contemporary audiences.
After doing more work on the script for the GableStage production, McCraney says, “I think audiences who know the play will be thrilled by how succinct it is and how much they don’t miss. …Younger people expect to be lulled to sleep by the language. This really kicks off right away.”
Says Arielle Hoffman, a Shakespeare first timer who’s playing Hamlet’s pal Guildenstern, “We call it Hamlet, the Action Movie.”
What may surprise audiences about this take on the melancholy Danish prince who sets about avenging the murder of his father is that the language isn’t McCraney’s. It’s pure Shakespeare.
“Someone asked if I was looking for my voice to come through in this. Not at all. It’s about taking a story that’s important and getting a group of people to investigate it as best they can,” the playwright says.
McCraney, who grew up in Liberty City, received his high school training at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, did undergraduate studies at Chicago’s DePaul University and earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama.
His Brother/Sister Plays trilogy ( The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet), largely written while he was at Yale, have been produced by major theaters around the United States and in England, marking the award-winning McCraney as one of the country’s hottest and most promising young playwrights.
This season alone, his play Head of Passes will get an April world premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre (where he is a company member), and in June, New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club will stage the American premiere of his Choir Boy, a play it commissioned.
His globetrotting life is hectic and artistically fulfilling, but bolstering the national theatrical profile of his hometown is a major part of his mission and dreams.
In casting Hamlet, McCraney mixed South Florida-based Shakespeare veterans like Peter Haig (Polonius) and James Samuel Randolph (Claudius and the ghost of Hamlet’s father) with young talent like Hoffman (a recent high school graduate who is the daughter of Carbonell Award-winning actors Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull) and several New World students.
He also brought some key actors home to Miami: Edgar Sanchez to play Hamlet, Alana Arenas as Gertrude, recent Southern Methodist University grad Mimi Davila as Ophelia and Ryan George as Laertes and Rosencrantz. Those artists and Fort Pierce native Dylan Kammerer (Horatio) have built careers elsewhere but wanted to come back to do Hamlet with McCraney.