SCRANTON — Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern enter one scene on bicycles. At another point, they toss a basketball back and forth, and Guildenstern spins it on one finger — using the Harlem Globetrotter-style move as a distraction to avoid answering a question from Hamlet.
Yes, this is a different kind of “Hamlet” the mostly teen-aged cast from the United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania will present at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Oppenheim Center for the Arts.
Audience members will see the young prince spray paint his “To-be-or-not-to-be” angst on a wall (actually, a huge piece of paper) like a graffiti artist; they’ll hear alternative rock from the band Nirvana and, when Hamlet fights with his friend Laertes, the swords will be light sabers — different color sabers, so people can keep track of which one was dipped in poison.
“It’s kid-centric. It’s their world,” said Rudy Caporaso from REV Theatre, who has been directing the young cast during after-school and weekend rehearsals. The script has been shortened so the show will be 75 minutes, he noted, but the language is pure. “There’s no dumbing down.”
The cast of this “Hamlet” is predominantly female, with King Claudius, the courtier Polonius and several friends of Hamlet joining Queen Gertrude and Ophelia in being portrayed by young women. So is the title character, played by Bree Heffley, 17, of Clarks Summit.
“I wanted to jump out of my comfort zone,” Heffley said with a smile.
“Everybody and their Aunt Minerva wanted to play Hamlet,” Caporaso added, explaining that during the audition process, would-be protagonists were asked why they wanted to tackle the meaty role. Heffley said she’d probably never find another theater company willing to give her that chance. “She touched my heart,” Caporaso said.
Early in the play, when Hamlet learns how his father died, he utters a powerful scream and pounds on a wall. To achieve that level of emotion, Heffley said, she thinks about things that make her angry in real life. “I have a lot of younger cousins who are like siblings to me,” she said, hinting they’ve annoyed her. Then she admitted something else really makes her angry. “Bullying,” she said quietly.
Here at Oppenheim Center, there seems to be none of that. Everybody appears to be such good friends they emerge from a swordfight laughing.
And, as they work toward their goal of the Jan. 29 performance, Caporaso pours on the positive reinforcement even as he makes corrections.
“Lovey-doodle,” he tells one young actress with a gentle laugh. “You’re brilliant and beautiful but you’ve got to be louder.”
“You’re doing fantastically,” he tells another. “But slow down. This is not the Hamlet Express.”