Monday, March 25, 2013

Saint Mary’s alum returns to direct modern version of ‘Hamlet’

Andrew Russell (Claudius) and Sarah Anderson (Gertrude) watch over Aaron Pepple (Hamlet) and Taylor Marshall-Miernicki (Ophelia) in the Saint Mary’s University Department of Theatre and Dance’s modern adaptation of “Hamlet,” to be staged April 4-7.

WINONA, Minn. — This is isn’t your grandfather’s “Hamlet.”

Saint Mary’s University alum and Winona native Ann Keen ’94 has returned to her alma mater to direct students in a modern — and rockin’ — version of the familiar Shakespearean tragedy, “Hamlet” April 4-7.

Keen, who now lives in St. Charles, Ill., had originally set the classic play in the modern and edgy setting of rock superstardom with her theatre company, Polarity Ensemble Theatre, in Chicago, back in 2008.

Despite taking some serious risks, the play garnered the theatre company (which she founded 10 years ago), the title “Best Emerging Theatre Company in Chicago” by The Chicago Reader.

“I Love Hamlet, but I found that even when it was done with exotic settings, there was still something that dated it,” she said. It was a heavy rock song that sparked Keen’s decision to create a modern, rock-related setting, complete with an original rock score. Hamlet wears black leather; Gertrude is a real cougar in five-inch heels; and Horatio … is a woman.

“In modern times, more roles are filled by women,” she explains.

Her goal is to not only make “Hamlet” accessible but also resonant to larger audiences. “People will know these characters,” she said. “It’s a universal story, with breakups and family tensions, and revenge. Shakespeare makes people nervous because of the language. I’ve had people tell me after seeing our show, ‘I finally understood it, and I loved it.’ And that’s exactly the reaction we were hoping for.”

Keen admits her version is undeniably more violent and “in your face” than the traditional “Hamlet,” reflecting the realities of society today.

While staging the show with her theatre company, Keen had thought that it would be perfect for college students as it’s set in their world. Faculty in the SMU Department of Theatre and Dance agreed and are happy to welcome Keen back.

The show runs 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 4-6, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 7, in Page Theatre.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and are available online at or by calling the box office Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at (507) 457-1715.