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Behind the Scenes

Young performers push the pace in ‘Hamlet’

Ross Magnant preparing for his performances as Hamlet this weekend at the Priscilla Beach Theatre in Plymouth.

Bay Colony Shakespeare Company

Ross Magnant preparing for his performances as Hamlet this weekend at the Priscilla Beach Theatre in Plymouth.

A young cast and local talent carry the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company’s new production of “Hamlet” in a series of performances this weekend at Plymouth’s Priscilla Beach Theatre.

The ensemble’s fast-paced two-hour version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, shaped for an intimate theater, is described by the troupe as “a swift, sweeping epic, a dramatic roller-coaster, set amid a royal household, and the vibrant and violent characters that inhabit it.”

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The production will take advantage of a talented cast, director Ross MacDonald said last week, blessed “with exceptional verse speakers’ abilities, gifted musicians, and skilled stage combatants.”

Much of that talent is young and based in area communities, MacDonald said.

“We have given an opportunity to South Shore talent,” MacDonald said. “Part of our mission is to breed a company of actors and, most of them, send them on their way.”

But the cast is not limited to local performers. It includes Ross Magnant, 23, of Salem, as Hamlet, the archetype of the angry young man of Western literature, who goes from a resentful adolescent to a mature, self-sacrificing hero in the course of the play’s five acts.

“He did a wonderful audition,” MacDonald said of Magnant, who studied at the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art. “This kid is very special.”

Elizabeth Hartford of Middleborough, 27, plays Ophelia, driven mad by her love for Prince Hamlet and her father’s insistence that she reject his advances and return his gifts. Hartford has performed often at the Vineyard Playhouse on Martha’s Vineyard.

Cameron Gosselin, a Duxbury native who lives in Weymouth now, plays Laertes, another vengeance-driven young man who blames Hamlet for his father’s death. He performed last year in Watertown’s Arsenal Center for the Arts production of “Enigma Variations.”

Erica Simpson of Taunton, who has performed in other Shakespeare productions, plays Horatio. She also designed the sets for this show.

Marshfield 21-year-old Alexandra Joseph, the company’s intern, plays Fortinbras and doubles in several smaller roles.

The role of Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is performed by Meredith Stypinski of Weymouth, who has many acting credits.

Tom Grenon of Stoughton, who takes the roles of King Claudius and the ghost of Hamlet’s father, is performing in his first show in 23 years. Grenon said last week that he took time off from the theater to work as an adoption social worker and raise three adopted children of his own.

“It’s a young company,” Grenon said of Bay Colony Shakespeare. “Everything is for the first time. They’re willing to try things . . . and to see how people grow.”

“Everyone here is brand new. It’s fast and furious. It’s all hands on deck,” Grenon said of the company’s “Hamlet” production. “There’s a particular energy that comes with that. Everyone is willing to do what it takes to make it work.”

The play, a “touring” venture for a company that lacks a permanent venue, began with performances in area high schools, including Marshfield and Boston College High, where cast members also gave theater workshops for students, and will continue next month in Newton and Quincy.

MacDonald helped to get Bay Colony Shakespeare under way last year, along with its founder, actor Neil McGarry of Marshfield. The company produced a full-length “Hamlet” last year, with McGarry as Hamlet, at Laura’s Center for the Arts in Hanover, and a one-man “A Christmas Carol,” also starring McGarry.

As an actor MacDonald has performed in Boston-based Actors’ Shakespeare Project productions, including one directed by Tina Packer. A British native and Army veteran living in Braintree, he also has a long list of credits in the United Kingdom.

The company’s current “Hamlet” is an edited version that encompasses all the play’s main story lines, said MacDonald, who previously directed the play in a production set in the 1980s.

“This is very different,” MacDonald said. “It’s a different energy, a different mission. . . . It’s costumed in 17th-century doublets and breeches and long dresses for the ladies. It’s a combination of Elizabethan inspiration and 21st-century knowledge.”

MacDonald sees “Hamlet” as “the first real-angry-young-man play.” Modern versions of the theme include the classic James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause,” a study of youthful alienation. Prince Hamlet has a lot to be angry about, after his father died in suspicious circumstances and his mother remarried his father’s brother, whom he suspects of causing his father’s death.

The play asks the big questions, MacDonald said. “What is it to be a man, a king, a warrior? A lover?”

In his distress Hamlet goes — or merely acts — “mad.” But other characters are under a lot of psychological stress as well. “People are plain crazy,” MacDonald said. The king is a guilt-stricken murderer; Queen Gertrude behaves badly in a midlife erotic frenzy. Ophelia is driven mad by Hamlet’s rejection and her father’s death. Laertes is half-mad with grief over the loss of both his sister and father.

All of these raging passions will be explored this weekend in Priscilla Beach Theatre’s intimate indoor studio space on Rocky Hill Road. The theater’s new owner is rebuilding the site’s barn playhouse, where at one time young actors such as Paul Newman learned their trade.

Behind the Scenes

“Hamlet”

Bay Colony Shakespeare Company

Priscilla Beach Theatre

796 Rocky Hill Road, Plymouth

Friday, 7:30 p.m.;

Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

$20; $15 seniors and children

www.baycolonyshakespeare.org

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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