Centastage’s Joe Antoun directs Shakespeare with a comedic, twist-filled spin in new play, ‘Noir Hamlet’

Picture a dark night in 1949 Los Angeles, a mysterious death, a new take on a classic, twist-filled tale, and a play within a…comedy?  That’s what happens when playwright John Minigan melds key elements of Shakespeare’s classic tale while throwing in a doll, a dame, and a detective in Centastage’s Noir Hamlet continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Even for those familiar with Hamlet, this tale is full of surprises.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet

Centastage’s Executive Director, founding member, and Noir Hamlet’s director Joseph Antoun discusses classic noir, Write On, and just where the idea for Noir Hamlet came from.  Joe won an IRNE for Excellence in Theatre.

Sleepless Critic:  Noir Hamlet is a fascinating, inventive play.  Since Shakespeare’s Hamlet has dark and mysterious elements, it’s easy to see the connection to noir.  However, this is a full-length comedy in one act.  How did this show come together?

Joseph Antoun:  John Minigan, part of our Write On playwriting group that meets once a month, wrote Noir Hamlet.  It was read in our playwriting group episodically, which means a couple of scenes brought it every now and then.  Through that process, John was able to shape this show.  Several playwrights bring in their work.

Noir Hamlet has key elements of the famous Shakespeare play such as finding out the mystery behind Hamlet’s father’s death.  Four actors are playing multiple roles.  The secretary’s name is Ray Chio, like ‘Horatio’ in John’s language and the same actor who plays Rey also plays Yorick’s skull.  Hamlet and Gertrude strictly play their roles, but Claude, as in Claudius, also portrays the Ghost of Hamlet and a character named Paolo Niro.  In that case, they are switching characters, but Rae is a love interest for Hamlet.  There’s also questions raised if Claude is also carrying on with Rae.  The show has lots of red herrings.

Noir Hamlet Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams

Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams in Noir Hamlet through June 30. Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  It’s vintage noir style.  That must have been fun to put on stage.

JA:  It was a riot!  The comedy has not only the noir look with long trench coats and fedoras, but the stereotypical language such as ‘mug,’ ‘doll,’ and ‘dame.’   It’s a fast moving script with lots of twists.

SC:  It’s a comedy, so I imagine the way this show is put together, even if the audience has read Hamlet, they still won’t know what is coming.

JA:  If the audience knows Hamlet, they’ll get a kick out what is acknowledged and paid homage to.  If they think by knowing Hamlet they’ll figure out the story, they’ll be surprised.

Noir Hamlet Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia

Noir Hamlet’s Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  A few local performers are taking the stage such as Liz Adams from Medford.  How was the audition process held?

JA:  It was a very personal type of casting.  I knew I wanted Paul Melendy for Hamlet because I had directed hi m before.  I knew Bob Murphy has the right comic timing.  He understands the show and Hamlet very well, so I knew he could enhance it.  Last year in Newburyport, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, who plays Rey, took part in a Noir Hamlet reading and John was pleased with it.  I admired Liz Adams’s work.  She played Julius Caesar in the all-female actor Shakespeare project version of Julius Caesar.  A lot of the audition process was just one-on-one interviews more than monologues or sonnets.

Coincidentally, we’re in the Black Box Theatre for Noir Hamlet, but across the hall in the Plaza Theatre, OWI is performing Red Velvet, calling it an Othello like you’ve never seen before.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy as Hamlet

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  What was most surprising about this production together?

JA:  One is the lightning pace of the show.  The faster the pacing, the funnier and better the show will be.  What is also surprising is the physical humor in it.  How funny simple actions such as turning the head or stepping out of the scene in film noir style have been.

SC:  His Girl Friday, an old film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, is not exactly a film noir, but the pacing is also incredibly quick.  One can detect four jokes in one line.  It’s a brilliant film.

JA:  Yes, Noir Hamlet has the same style and it pays homage to that film.  I watched a whole lot of film noir to catch up on the noir language such as Laura, The Big Sleep, and film noir-style films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Naked GunNoir Hamlet is its own thing though it has its influences.

SC:  Centastage is in its 28th season.  How has it evolved over the years?

Centastage started with seasons of new plays by local writers and I realized I didn’t think we were serving audiences or playwrights by a season every year of the best plays we received if I didn’t feel like they were ready for production.  Over time, we started putting more energy into the development process of new plays.  Now we do a new play when we think we have a script ready for it.

In 2015, our last full production was IRNE-nominated Academy Fight Song by Andrew Clarke.  It took five years to develop between Andrew Clarke, the playwright, doing readings, rewriting it, and us rereading it.   Centastage is a great community to be a part of and it’s nice to deal with playwrights, actors, directors, and designers.

Centastage New work

Courtesy of Centastage

SC:  Please tell me about Write On, which is how Noir Hamlet came together in the first place.

JA:  Write On has been meeting since 1994 on the first Monday of every month.  We have actors come who like to write plays.  The members bring in work and we read and discuss them.  John Minigan has a dramatic piece that is a Eugene O’ Neill finalist this year.  When he brought Noir Hamlet in the first time, the people laughed their way through acting it.  The theatre group has been great.  We have been through years of big numbers but right now.   My guess is that we are at 12-15 regular playwrights.   It’s a very thoughtful process.  All genres, all forms and open to whoever wants to join.  We also put together readings open to the public, social events, and on the website are playwright and actor head shots as well as show titles that have gone on to Centastage full productions.

SC:  I imagine you hear a lot of shows that come across the board.  How do you decide which on you want to work with?

JA:  That’s a really good question.  A lot of it is my gut.  I enjoy plays with a strong sense of character, good storytelling, and surprising themes.   I have actors that come into the writing group and I also teach at Emerson which exposes me to not only young actors, but professional actors who are on faculty and we have open auditions.

I believe in building bridges between playwrights and artists.  Playwrights that have you read their play in a reading start to build a bridge between you and that work.  I think it’s a good way to connect with new plays coming up.

Noir Hamlet poster

Noir Hamlet continues through June 30 Photo courtesy of Centastage

It sounds like Centastage plays a big part in the whole picture.  Click here for more information and tickets to Noir Hamlet, continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information on Centastage and here for Write On.  Follow Centastage on Facebook and Twitter.

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‘Wicked,’ ‘Something Rotten,’ & ‘Finding Neverland’ part of Lexus Broadway in Boston’s new season

Rolling in the New Year with a comedy behind the birth of the first musical, Lexus Broadway in Boston blends beloved, Tony award-winning classics and enthralling, contemporary musicals full of mystery and magic.  Lexus Broadway in Boston offers a sensational, dynamic combination of shows kicking off with a humorous look at the birth of the musical with Something Rotten to the stage adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s birth of Peter Pan with Finding Neverland.  All productions are held at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for a closer look at upcoming shows, tickets, and how to become a season subscriber.  Like Broadway in Boston on Facebook for updates.

Alternating from the 90s to the 1590s, the musical comedy, Something Rotten, delves into the height of Shakespeare’s time as two brothers discover the key to success may be a musical.  Songs include Welcome to the Renaissance, Hard to Be the Bard, and It’s Eggs.  Something Rotten will take place from Monday, January 16 through Sunday, January 29.

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Touring cast of musical comedy, ‘Something Rotten’

Set in tumultuous pre-World War II Germany and with classic numbers such as Maybe This Time and Willkommen, enter the Kit Kat Club for the classic musical, Cabaret.  Full of raucous songs and outrageous choreography, The Roundabout Theatre Company presents this musical classic to celebrate their 50th anniversary from Tuesday, January 31 through Sunday, February 12.  Cabaret contains mature content.

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The cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour of ‘Cabaret’

A murder-mystery set around a brilliant fifteen year-old boy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a Tony award-winning play based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel of the same name.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time takes place from Tuesday, March 7 through Sunday, March 19.  This show contains adult language and themes.

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Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone & the cast of the touring production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Tony award-winner of 2015’s ‘Best Revival of the Musical,’ revisit Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sweeping, romantic musical classic, The King and I.  This captivating musical explores the extraordinary relationship between the King of Siam and a British schoolteacher featuring the classic numbers, Hello Young Lovers, I Have Dreamed, and Shall We Dance.  See The King and I on Tuesday, April 11 through Sunday, April 23.

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Jose Llana as The King of Siam & Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna Leonowens in ‘The King and I’ tour.

This summer, embark on a magical journey into Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie’s imagination with Finding Neverland.  Set in London, struggling playwright J.M. Barrie is looking for inspiration for a big hit when he meets a family so rich in creativity and make-believe, it may change his entire life.  Full of visually-stunning effects and touching drama, Finding Neverland arrives on Tuesday, August 8 and continues through Sunday, August 20.

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The cast of ‘Finding Neverland’ tour

Broadway in Boston also proudly presents season options Wicked, The Illusionists, and the farewell tour of Mamma Mia.  Click here for tickets to Lexus Broadway in Boston’s  new season.