The cast of Hamlet Wakes Up Late rehearses at the Schwartz Center before opening night.

Courtesy of Rachel Philipson

The cast of Hamlet Wakes Up Late rehearses at the Schwartz Center before opening night.

November 11, 2017

Hamlet Wakes Up Late, Now at Schwartz

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You’re probably used to seeing Shakespeare plays with a twist: whether that means adapted into a musical, parodied upon or set in a different era or political context. In fact, these days it might actually be harder to encounter a Shakespeare play done in the strictly “classic” manner than one that takes on some sort of revisionist elements.

But you probably haven’t seen an adaptation as bold as Hamlet Wakes Up Late. Written by renowned Syrian poet and playwright Mamduh Adwan, translated by Prof. Margaret Litvin, Arabic and comparative literature, Boston University, and directed by Prof. Rebekah Maggor, performing and media arts, Hamlet Wakes Up Late is a Syrian political satire set which had its English-language premiere at the Schwartz this weekend.

Inspired by The Bard’s iconic tragedy, the play unfolds under a drastically different and intriguing premise: one in which Prince Hamlet is an narcissistic alcoholic, so absorbed in his own world that he remains unaware of the truth behind his father’s death and oblivious to the people’s suffering under his uncle’s dictatorship until it is too late.

“There’s something very freeing in being a part of something that’s brand new,said Sydney Wolfe ’20, who plays the role of Ophelia. “As actors we don’t and cannot compare our productions to existing ones.” According to her, while pieces of language from Shakespeare’s text are gracefully woven in, many characters arcs are quite different from those in the original. And while coming into the theater with certain knowledge about Shakespeare’s Hamlet can prove to be very useful in identifying the differences and yield pleasant surprises, audience members who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s text need not be concerned, for the play takes on a life of its own. “We’re not doing Hamlet with a twist, we’re doing Hamlet Wakes Up Late.”

The Schwartz is not new to Syrian theatre. Last fall, Maggor directed Desert of Light, a play about the country’s civil war and ongoing refugee crisis. Maggor decided to bring Hamlet Wakes Up Late to Cornell after a reading in New York City, seeing that the American audience “found it both politically provocative and highly entertaining.” “The play was written in the 70s, and it’s originally about the Assad regime, but many of its elements are terrifyingly relevant to the political climate in the United States today, ” Wolfe remarked, “themes like elitism, poverty, and totalitarian power.”

Featuring original music, dancing, adventurous costumes that “look like a mixture of Elizabethan, Wall Street, and the Hunger Games,” and exciting swordfight sequences from the Cornell Fencing Team, Hamlet Wakes Up Late runs from Nov. 11th through Nov. 18th, and is bound to be an one-of-a-kind, eye-opening experience.

Andrea Yang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at yy545@cornell.edu.