No really, you’ll get it
Ghostlight pulls from Asian theater for Japanese Hamlets
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Director John Sefel says folks who have seen rehearsals of Ghostlight’s Japanese version of Hamlet say they are “shocked” at how easy it is to follow. The characters speak Japanese, the narrator speaks English, much of the story is told wordlessly using visuals and original music, and it runs just over an hour. Japanese coach Anja Parish helped performers and edited Sefel’s translation. (No, he doesn’t speak Japanese.)
The adaptation is Noh-inspired, but this is an American take,
“It’s very much an introduction to that world,” Sefel said. He chose Hamlet partially because its subject matter is close to mythology that people know. The plots of a prince avenging the murder of his father by his uncle, a ghost calling for revenge, the drowning of Ophelia, are all stories that may be familiar to audiences even if they haven’t read or seen Hamlet. Noh theater also pulls from the dynastic tragedy and vengeful ghost genres, Sefel said.
“I think there is a tradition for audiences to expect to see Shakespeare treated originally and differently,” Sefel said. However, interpretations need to serve a purpose and bring new emphasis to Shakespeare’s meaning, he said. “I really can’t stand going to see Shakespeare and just seeing a gimmicky play,” Sefel said.
To Sefel, Hamlet is one of the most “elegant,” and “quiet” Shakespeare plays, and is filled with tension, which matches Noh style. The finished product will be both traditional and modern, he said.
The large cast includes an ensemble “living set.” Each scene in Ghostlight’s adaptation of Hamlet starts with an empty stage. The ensemble builds the set accompanied by choreography by Jessica Cooley, creating a kind of pageantry.
“In western theater we are so obsessed with getting people to forget they are in a theater; in Asian theater they don’t have that preoccupation,” Sefel said. Laura Fedele and Nathanial Ward composed Asian-inspired music and will perform with Parish on percussion and woodwind. While Noh is almost exclusively music and dance, with representative props to tell the story, the music for Hamlet will be used mainly to underpin moments.
The production also pulls from the Balinese shadow puppet tradition. Mariposa World and Culture Museum in Peterborough has lent kimonos to the cast.
“It might actually get a couple people to expand what they expect from community theater,” Sefel said.
He began the year-long project after he developed a fascination with Asian theater. It was partially watching Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa’s takes on Shakespeare that intrigued Sefel, he said.
No longer in college, “I have to create my own course,” Sefel said. He immersed himself in Japanese books. Expecting his translation to be a disaster, Sefel said he was surprised that Parish didn’t say it was completely wrong. She cleaned it up, changing phrases that were too formal and fixing incorrect articles. Born in Germany, Parish studied and lived in Japan. Sefel still can’t hold a conversation in Japanese, he said.
After this production, Sefel is hoping to submit his adaptation for publication.
“This one I’m very proud of. I think it’s extremely accessible,” he said.
Only a few years old, Ghostlight’s mission is to bring unique, quality entertainment to the region and explore the limits of “community theater.”
Most of the Hamlet cast is new to Ghostlight. Dan Haggerty plays Hamlet and has worked with Yellow Taxi and majored in theater at Keene State College. David Goodman plays Claudius and formerly worked with American Stage Festival. Megan Peobody appears as Ophelia, Melissa Groff as Gertrude, Bryan Burns-Fedele as Laertes and Seth Thompson as Horatio. Harvard University student John Kim acts as the narrator. The ensemble includes Bill Szafran, Lisa Defazio, Ozan Haksever, Marc Pelletier, Jillian Harlowe, Erin Wilkerson, Matt Gately and Katelynn Dvorak.
Sefel has directed One Flea Spare, which won Best Production at last year’s NH State Festival. Ghostlight’s Shakespeare series will conclude with Titus Andronicus Aug. 24 and 25, also at the Annicchiarico.