Do you have friends who constantly try luring you to Shakespeare in the Park? Or to happenings that are comparably incompatible with your low-to-middlebrow tastes?
Well, here’s your chance to return the favor, and potentially to meet on common ground. So long as you and all your drama club associates are into weed.
In addition to bringing national headliners to Laugh Boston, over the past few years the writing team at the mothership Improv Asylum has responded in real time to current events through original shows like the recent Trump Takes On … Boston, all of which leave room for cast members to wiggle in headlines and memes, songs, jingles, and jokes.
This time the crew’s taking a different approach and bringing it back—all the way to the 17th Century, specifically the time that Shakespeare’s longest play was written. All the same, their loose interpolation of the quintessential classic, High Hamlet, is rooted in a topic on the tip of countless tongues of late.
We asked Ceara O’Sullivan, who plays the pivotal Queen of Denmark and Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, how they spun the timeless tragedy for the legal pot era.
DB: Have you ever played in a non-stoned Shakespeare production?
CO: I was in Shakespeare in high school. I think the last was for summer stock theater in upstate New York, and it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
What would be the typical routine for preparing for a regular Shakespeare production, the type that doesn’t involve cannabis?
With typical ones, the text is really really revered, so you’re spending a lot of time doing text analysis. With our show though, we are being irreverent with the text. We are conceding that the person who is playing the lead …
Yeah, what’s up with the lead anyway?
Oh, the actor who plays Hamlet is stoned.
Just him? Or are you all going to be stoned?
He’ll be stoned enough for all of us.
Like, he’ll be stoned in real life?
Just for the show.
But will the actor who is playing Hamlet actually smoke weed before going on stage?
Oh, yes, it’s like “Drunk History.” That’s Eric LaMonica who will be playing Hamlet stoned, by the way.
How does that work? Will he just go out back before the show?
I think the plan is for him to have quite the ritual. It’s in the works now, and it’s all being heavily monitored because it’s kind of a liability.
Does one rehearse stoned?
[Eric] hasn’t been, so we’re going to go into our first previews and he’ll be stoned for that. None of us are worried about it though—if anything, we’re excited to mess with him.
How did they advertise for these roles? Did everybody know it was going to be a situation that involved, um, weed and stuff?
I did because I work for [Improv Asylum], but there were definitely some traditional Shakespearean actors who came out and didn’t realize what was going on. And we didn’t really know either at that time to tell you the truth. [The show as it goes into rehearsals and opening night] is about 50 percent [from the original] text and 50 percent improv. We’ve been building it together. Sometimes the text rolls as-is, and sometimes we take it elsewhere.
What sort of adjustments were made?
If you’re an improviser you’re an actor. Some of the biggest pieces of our skill set is to do crowd work, so we had to find moments for that. And there are people in the cast who are super musical. There is a moment in the text when Ophelia is supposed to sing, but they’re dense. So we just cut out the songs and instead we’re doing improvised songs, and one of them is a rap.
Has this been done in other places?
Not like this, but everyone has ways of doing Shakespeare differently. The most common is to leave the text and change the context—put it in the antebellum south, the inner-city, something like that. There is a company called Shit-faced Shakespeare that does a show with one actor drinking, but with the recent legalization of weed [in Massachusetts] this seemed like the natural thing to do.
There are all these theories that Shakespeare was a stoner. He’s so prolific in his writing that you can find traces of evidence for anything. Some people think he’s a woman, some people think he’s really multiple people, but a lot of people like to suggest that he smoked weed.
In general, would you recommend Shakespeare to stoners?
Absolutely. I think the difference between being high and being drunk is a heavy attention to detail, and Shakespeare is so, so nuanced, so I think there is definitely an overlap between fans of Shakespeare and fans of weed. And fans of comedy, too, of course. This is a new kind of show. We have all of those things.
HIGH HAMLET. 4.20–5.27 AT LAUGH BOSTON, 425 SUMMER ST., BOSTON. LAUGHBOSTON.COM.