When "Hamlet" takes the Great Hall stage at St. John's College this afternoon, don't expect a melancholy Dane in tights to come out venting anger at his mummy for filling her bed with someone other than his daddy.
"You can't do an Oedipal 'Hamlet' better than Sir Laurence Olivier anyway," says director Nathan Rosen, "so why bother?"
In fact, Mr. Rosen knew he was ready to direct his first "Hamlet" when he found himself disagreeing with virtually all the Freudian literary analysis he was reading about literature's most famous prince.
The St. John's "Hamlet" gives us a theology student caught in the throes of the great moral dilemma between earthly justice and God's final judgment.
"Revenge, as a concept, is on shaky theological ground," says Craig Bradshaw, the St. John's alumnus who plays King Claudius and helped produce the play. "It's really a terrible ethical dilemma that Hamlet has to work out, especially since he's dealing with the agony of personal loss after the death of his father."
The daunting task of bringing this tortured young theologian to life falls to Aaron Finkelstein, who approaches his responsibility with Zen-like humility and humor.
"Obviously, it's one of the great challenges," he says. "In fact, it's impossible. But, once you get past that, it's no sweat."
"Hamlet" is being presented in what Mr. Rosen calls "neo-Elizabethan" style; in a manner in which the original Globe Theater audiences might have experienced the play. House lights are up, scenes take place in aisles and on alcoves, and theatergoers can expect to be addressed directly by cast members from time to time.
Rumor has it that a few local references are added to the script with gravediggers seeking out the Ram's Head Tavern to assuage their dusty thirst.
"It just plays so well," said Mr. Rosen. "Anyone who only knows 'Hamlet' from high school study should come see it with us. It's heartbreaking, thrilling and a lot funnier than most English teachers let it be."
"Hamlet" is performed at 2 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays through July 30. For more information, call 268-2793.