To be or not to be: Catch ‘Hamlet’ in its final weekend at Secret Theatre

To be or not to be: Catch ‘Hamlet’ in its final weekend at Secret Theatre
Chauncy Thomas stars as Claudius/Polonius and Nathan Winkelstein portrays Hamlet in The Secret Theatre’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Photo by Reiko Yanagi
By Tammy Scileppi

If you’re in the mood for something different that you can really sink your teeth into, get thyself to Secret Theatre in Long Island City Sunday, where you can savor a modern take on William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” courtesy of Artistic Director Richard Mazda and Ript Theater Company Artistic Director Nathan Winkelstein.

Get ready for a fast-paced whirlwind of mind and body as rational thought battles with hysteria.

Shakespeare’s plays have been captivating audiences for four centuries and this new adaptation still explodes with passion and dysfunctional family drama that everyone can relate to. Its message is timely and quite relevant today, for despite how much the world has evolved and progressed, human nature has, of course, stayed the same.

People have always questioned their existence. As Shakespeare himself wrote: “To be, or not to be: that is the question…”

“While re-reading ‘Hamlet,’ I was struck by the family drama at the core of the play and became fascinated by how best to draw this out in a production,” said Winkelstein, who portrays Hamlet in the production. “As I hewed and chipped away at the text, cringing with each cut line and trying to preserve the verse, three archetypes started to emerge – The Father, The Soldier, and The Lover.”

“Each of these serves to punctuate Hamlet’s perception of the world,” Winkelstein added. “Hamlet views Claudius, Polonius, even the Lead Player, through the lens of his dead father. He views his young companions or enemies — Horatio and Laertes — through the soldierly lens of honor and friendship. Finally, Gertrude and Ophelia are both defined for Hamlet primarily through love — his romantic love for Ophelia, confused loved for Gertrude and their love for others, especially Gertrude’s for Claudius.”

Winkelstein said he drew on his earlier experiences with the play to enhance the production.

“Hamlet and I have danced around each other since I was young. I have memories of reading the play curled up on the couch of my mother’s law office when I was a kid. In my teenage years I was struck again by this quintessential ‘Angry Young Man’ play as I think many a teen might be,” he said. “As I have aged into the role the philosophical aspects of the play have become more cogent. Hamlet ceased to be the clear heroic protagonist in my eyes and became a flawed, hurting young man attempting to accomplish a Herculean task and making a mess of it.”

Hamlet, both the character and the play, is about asking questions. Audiences leave with more questions than when they arrive.

“They are inspired to stop and think, like Hamlet himself, about their actions and the world at large. In an era of social media and clickbait, watching a play about a man who contemplates his decisions and indeed his existence and being forced to contemplate these things in oneself makes Hamlet as vital and current as ever,” Winkelstein said. “Hamlet is beloved because the crises that Hamlet goes through are universal. They are family oriented, loss oriented, jealousy oriented, morality oriented — all issues that anyone on the planet can tap into.”

The Secret Theatre is located at 4402 23rd St. Performances are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $25 at the door.

More from Around New York