A final bow, a Trojan rabbit

A melancholy Dane taking a final bow. The knights who said “Ni!” though none really know why.

Two Gainesville plays premiering in July both delve into matters of royalty, of sorts. But in tone and tenor they are kingdoms apart.

If this is summer, then it’s time for Shakespeare at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater. It’s an ART tradition. But when “Hamlet,” arguably the Bard’s greatest tragedy, opens on July 15, it will mark a bittersweet occasion: It will be the last play performed in the South Main Street theater in which the Acrosstown has been lodged for 36 years.

Also premiering on July 15, at the Gainesville Community Playhouse, is “Spamalot,” the musical spoof of the Arthurian legend based on (or ripped off from) the cult movie hit “Monty Python And The Holy Grail.”

Both plays will run through August 7.

“It’s definitely our last play here because the ART has to move out by the end of August,” when the lease expires says “Hamlet” director Catherine Karow. “It breaks my heart a little bit.”

Nonetheless, she says, “Hamlet” is almost the perfect vehicle with which to close out the Acrosstown’s reign in the old Baird Center, where it has performed since 1986.

The story of an emotionally tormented prince, haunted by his dead father and intent on revenge against the uncle who stole his throne, is one of the great classics of English literature.

“Hamlet is the most iconic role for any actor,” Karow said. “When I think of ‘Hamlet’ I think of very dark and primitive emotions. We have created a cave and castle that is very dark and very primitive. We’ve incorporated a lot of visual and sound effects to make this a really cool production.

“I would say it’s got everything from stunning visual effects, a really powerful immersive set, unique casting and phenomenal acting from start to finish.”

Oh, and the ART’s production will also feature something rather unusual: A female actor cast in the title role.

Call it a modern twist on a Shakespearean tradition. It was common, even expected, in Shakespeare’s time for men to play female roles. But in this production Emma Grimm will portray Hamlet.

“This is a very strong story about a father and a son and love and revenge. Those are themes that cross genders,” Karow said. “Hamlet is still male” but her decision to cast a women in that role “all came down to the auditions.”

“Casting is about 80 percent of a director’s job,” she said, “and I cast based on who could play Hamlet most effectively. Every other character you cast depends on who is playing Hamlet. The choice came down to a very small group, and she (Grimm) was the most compelling.”

For showtimes and prices, see the ART’s web page.

In contrast, there is very little or no tragedy involved in “Spamalot.” Just a lot of taunting French, a giant rabbit, coconut shell horse hooves, peasants lecturing nobles about the struggle of the working class…and endless speculation about the legitimacy of a king who derived his title from a woman who lives in a lake.

“A lot of people are fans of Monty Python,” says director Ted Lewis. “If you love British slapstick comedy you’ve got to see this play. And even if you haven’t seen Monty Python you ought to see this play.”

And talk about special effects: “We’ve built a life-sized Trojan rabbit. We’re using some of the digital animations from the original movie as digital backdrops,” Lewis said. “A screen drops down and you have action from the movie going on behind the actors on the stage.”

“Spamalot” is actually something of a repeat performance for Lewis, who originally produced the play several years ago at Buchholz High School, where he teaches theatrical arts.

“It was very well received,” he recalled. “For us a good show was 150 people” in the audience. “I’m hoping that we can bring a lot more people to GCP for a show that hasn’t been done” in Gainesville theaters beyond the high school level.

At Buchholz, Lewis and his teen actors had the luxury of 12 weeks of rehearsal. Because of Covid restrictions and other obstacles “we ended up with about six weeks” at GCP. The cast of nearly 30 actors “has really stepped up.”

So what does Lewis expect GCP audiences to come away with after experiencing “Spamalot”? What, indeed, is the moral to this convoluted story?

“Honestly, it is don’t be afraid to laugh. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Nowadays the news is full of serious he said-she said stuff. Just take a break from it and have fun because you can still be entertained.”

Oh, and there is this as well.

“Don’t attack French castles with giant rabbits,” he adds. “It almost never works.”

For tickets and performance times consult GCP’s web page.

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