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Theater Troupe Plays Hamlet at Noe Ministry
By Richard Dodds
It will be Shakespeare "without the frou-frou," according to the director of a lean-and-mean production of Hamlet opening this month at the Noe Valley Ministry.
"We get to the point," John Wilk says of the two-hour, modern-dress version of the play. "It's our consensus of how the play relates to the modern generation."
Hamlet is the debut production of the Random Acts Theatre Company, a group of 11 performers who recently decided to form their own ensemble. The seven men and four women play all 30 roles in Shakespeare's tragedy, doing multiple parts and bending gender as needed. Karl Hanover, an actor from Ireland, will head the cast as Hamlet. Karla Acosta, originally from the Philippines, is Ophelia.
One of the most popular plays in the Shakespeare canon, Hamlet explores the dilemmas facing the prince of Denmark when he learns his father, the king, was murdered by his new stepfather. Whether to end the new king's life, or even his own, are decisions that face the vacillating prince who, in his famous soliloquy, questions whether "To be or not to be."
"They say this play has a new message for every generation," Wilk says, "and what [the actors] did was sit down and talk about it for a good two weeks. We talked about how people deal with isolation, how they feel when they want to be part of a community and are not always allowed to be, and how they deal with their own selfishness and loneliness at the same time." The group is sure the final product will be "explosive," Wilk says.
For the past 14 years, Wilk, who lives on the "cusp" of Noe Valley and Glen Park, has taught acting at City College of San Francisco. For six years Wilk ran his own theater company, the San Francisco Theatre Project. He has also worked at the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) as an administrator and associate director.
While some of the cast members are his former students, "they're not just a collection of 19-year-olds," Wilk says. "In fact, some of the people in the cast are in their 50s. They're grownups."
Back in 1983, Wilk directed a play at the Noe Valley Ministry, and he recommended the Gothic Victorian church to the members of Random Acts. "I told them it was a great space, acoustically well suited for Shakespeare. Luckily they were able to find the dates." The company will give a total of eight performances from Oct. 22 to Nov. 14.
Though the Ministry stage will be bare except for some chairs, Wilk feels the sanctuary has the proper courtly feel for the play. An "environmental soundscape" by composer Ken Kearney will help set a contemporary tone.
In its press release, the company makes lighthearted reference to its "non-blond" status. "This cast is multi-ethnic," Wilk explains, "and they thought it was funny that nobody has blond hair even though the play is set in Denmark. We have a cast typical of the fabric of Northern California, which makes it very interesting because everyone's got something to say."
Wilk bristles when he hears the rap against Shakespeare that he's just another "dead white male" with little relevance to today's audiences.
"This play is so well written it can speak to anybody," he said. "'A thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to' is just an incredible line, and it can speak to drug addiction, AIDS, growing old, or just getting a cut on your finger. It's just one of thousands of lines that jump right off the page."
Random Acts' Hamlet will play weekends from Oct. 22 to Nov. 14 at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez St. A preview performance will be held Friday, Oct. 22, at 8 p.m. The show's opening takes place Sunday, Oct. 24, at 4 p.m. The remaining performances will be Fridays, Oct. 29, Nov. 5, and Nov. 12; Saturdays, Oct. 30 and Nov. 13; and Sunday, Nov. 14; at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 general; $12 preview, students, and seniors; and $10 for groups of 10 or more (reservations required). Call 415-337-8963.