Red Theater gives Shakespeare a modern edge



Red Theater’s production of “Red Hamlet” flips the Shakespeare classic on its head, turning hero into villain and villain into hero. The play drips with emotion from beginning to end.

“Red Hamlet” combines classic Hamlet with original Red Theater pieces. The result is an expressionistic, realistic and futuristic take on one of Shakespeare’s most famous works. The idea developed from an argument about the nature of some elements of Shakespeare’s play, said Aaron Sawyer, director, cast member and co-founder of Red Theater. Using different Red Theater pieces to metaphorically describe their points-of-view, Sawyer and co-founder Theron Seckington created the foundation for “Red Hamlet.”

“As we started to plug other pieces into the play’s framework, the idea was born,” Sawyer said.

The difficulty of modernizing a Shakespeare play was not lost on Sawyer. Focusing on a young boy desperate for his dead father’s love, he challenges the audience to “feel compassion for the characters in a new way.”

“There are some very powerful subjects covered by this play, and we are discovering that the audience sides with different characters in different ways on different nights,” Sawyer said. “I hope people leave our stage feeling like they’ve seen something they are very familiar with in a completely new way.”

For the past three years, Red Theater has impressed Omaha and Lincoln with their distinctive style. Using their ability to connect with the audience on every level, the members of Red Theater have made classic Shakespeare accessible to generations young and old.

“We consciously choose when and why we use elevated or colloquial language, vaudeville, expressionism, dance elements, slam poetry, etc.,” Sawyer said. “Our primary goal is to affect the audience in every moment, which I think is different from most theatre.”

In classic Red Theater fashion, the audience becomes part of the show. Sitting about a foot away from the stage, the audience has no choice but to soak it all in. Red Theater typically destroys the concept of the “fourth wall,” an imaginary barrier between actor and audience.

“When we do use [‘fourth wall’], we try to make the scene feel very intimate, voyeuristic and private,” Sawyer said. “The rest of the time we believe in using the most powerful and primary element of live theatrical performance: a performer interacting with an audience on an emotional and physical level.”

“Red Hamlet” never lacks expression. Gage Wallace and Amy Schwied make a passionate pair as Hamlet and Ophelia. Colin Ferguson earns the most laughs with his witty portrayal of Fortinbras.

The simple set consisted of a large red curtain paired with a black and white tile mat. An occasional prop or two popped up, but the real color was shown through dialogue.

“This show is fun, powerful, theatrical and dramatic,” Sawyer said.”It’s also lewd, sexy, irreverent and a bit foul-mouthed. Best of all, we manage to do all of that in about an hour.”

Preview productions of “Red Hamlet” will continue in Omaha this week. Wednesday night’s 8 p.m. performance will be held at PS Collective, located at 6056 Maple St.

“Red Hamlet” will return to UNO’s Weber Fine Arts Building Thursday through Saturday, with all performances starting at 9:30 p.m. “Red Hamlet” will premiere at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis on Thursday, Aug. 4.