Director Carey Perloff Takes on "The Hardest Play in the World"

By Taylor Steinbeck

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but the air in 30 Grant Avenue is alive with anticipation for A.C.T.’s 2017–18 season opener, Hamlet. Monday’s first rehearsal gathered the cast, crew, A.C.T. staff, and donors for a presentation on what A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff calls “the hardest play in the world.”

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
Having thought about Hamlet much throughout her education and many years of theater-making, Perloff is prepared and excited to dive deep into the consciousness of this notoriously complex play. “This is play about someone who’s thrust by circumstance into making an impossible choice” she says. “If he kills the murderer of his father, he immediately becomes a murderer himself. If he doesn’t, then he is forever the son who permitted this toxic crime to stand. There is no right answer.”

The production’s set design mirrors the murkiness of Hamlet’s ethics. Perloff and scenic and costume designer David Reynoso have envisioned a space where the political environment has literally been contaminated. “We want the atmosphere to feel dangerous and rife with weird toxic possibilities,” says Perloff. “The play is full of images of pollution. There’s this sense that everything looks good from the surface because the pollution has been paved over, but there are cracks and something rank underneath.”

Though there are ostensible parallels between the political upheaval of Hamlet’s world and our own, Perloff isn't interested in making easy equivalencies (in other words, Steven Anthony Jones’s Claudius will not be donning a blonde toupée). Instead, she hopes to capture that familiar feeling of unsettledness and let it permeate Hamlet’s climate. “We know emotionally what it feels like to live in a landscape where we’re not even clear why a leader was elected and what will happen subsequently,” Perloff says.

Actor John Douglas Thompson at the first rehearsal for Hamlet. Photo by Brad Amorosino.
In telling such a multifaceted narrative, it helps to have a world-class Shakespearean actor like John Douglas Thompson at its helm. “John has been such a beacon of excellence and commitment in the face of all odds,” says Perloff. “The chance to see this actor tackle this role is one that I just couldn’t say no to.”

Hamlet runs at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater from September 20 to October 15. Click here to purchase tickets. To see the rest of our 2017–18 season, click here.

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