To be, or not to be, a short version of a beloved play

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When Tal Aviezer first set out to develop his abridged adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” he knew some parts of the tragedy were to be in the final production, while others parts — including the famed soliloquy — were not to be. 

Well, at least, before he decided to change course.

“I felt it was a passive speech that didn’t necessarily do much to advance the story,” said Aviezer, the artistic director of the Red Monkey Theater Group. “But I was concerned that it would be disappointing to the audience to come see, what perhaps for some people might be their favorite play, and that their favorite speech did not appear. So I decided to put it in after all.”

Now, Aviezer’s version of the Bard of Avon’s most famous play can expect to see and hear the iconic monologue at the tragedy’s start, rather than its original spot midway through the original play.

Aviezer debuted his quick-paced play March 10 and March 11 at the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s intimately staged Cahill Theater. And now it’s going on the road to libraries throughout the region.

Shortening “Hamlet” to an even 100 minutes, Aviezer said, was purely practical.

“This is a touring show,” he said. “It has to travel to 11 different venues, and in some cases, there’s just a limited amount of time for which the show is booked. And sometimes they ask (for) a talk-back with the director and the cast, so it was just necessary to compress it to accommodate the needs of all the different venues.”

Other major changes include nixing the subplot involving Fortinbras — the rival Norwegian crown prince who originally delivers the play’s final lines — and making “internal cuts throughout the script that many people who are really familiar with ‘Hamlet’ will recognize.” 

Aside from the trimming, Aviezer — who also plays the titular role — said none of Shakespeare’s original words have been altered.

“I don’t feel it’s the Reader’s Digest version of ‘Hamlet’,” he insists, “or that it’s been dumbed down in any way.”

Mikel Von Brodbeck and Melinda O’Brien, the husband-and-wife duo behind the M&M Performing Arts Company, made similar overtures.

“Upon reading the play, I think that he really did distill the play down to its true essence,” Van Brodbeck said. “I think the story — which is a timeless, wonderful, amazing story — shines through.” 

Von Brodbeck plays the supporting characters Polonius and Marcellus, the latter of which utters the oft-quoted line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“He did a one-night show of it in White Plains” in 2009, O’Brien added. “I was impressed then, and remembered that I’d liked it so much.”

Prior to The Mount, Aviezer and Red Monkey performed a month of sold-out shows at the Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown where Von Brodbeck;’s and O’Brien’s company has been in residence for the past six years.

A similar amount of time has passed for Aviezer’s theater group, which recently marked its sixth year in residence at The Mount. After its founding in 1999, Aviezer said the group is nearing an agreement on a new contract that would keep Red Monkey at the Riverdale Avenue school through 2023.

That partnership has yielded a number of perks, including a continuing supply of interns from The Mount’s student body, like Emilie Swartvagher, a senior English major, who finds herself working on this production of “Hamlet.” It’s her third play now after “Rhinoceros” and “Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

Now an assistant stage manager for “Hamlet,” Swartvagher’s first brush with Aviezer’s theater company came as a member of the audience watching his Sherlock Holmes adaptation as a sophomore.

“Students get really excited when Red Monkey does stuff,” Swartvagher said. “It’s such a tremendous and beautiful responsibility on Red Monkey to put on a really great show … and introduce (first-time theatergoers) to the wonderful and beautiful life of theater.”

With The Mount performances over, Red Monkey and M&M will tour “Hamlet” in libraries across Westchester County through April.

“If people from all walks of life can come … and recognize something of themselves in the character of Hamlet, then I think we’ve done our job as artists,” Aviezer said. 

“The function of culture is to unite, to create empathy, and to show us how little there really is that divides us.”

For more information on “Hamlet,” visit tinyurl.com/HamletLibraryTour.

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