In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of I Hate Hamlet at 2nd Star Productions, meet Fred Nelson.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you in the past year on local stages?
Fred: I’m a television producer from Columbia, and have appeared in scores of theatre and screen roles. Local audiences may have seen me playing the King every summer and fall at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. My “home” theatre (outside of the festival) is 2nd Star at the Bowie Playhouse, and I’ve done several wonderful productions with them. I won the WATCH Award for Best Actor in a Musical in 2013, finally playing my decades-long dream role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
What does the show have to say to audiences of all ages?
Despite its title, the show professes a tenderness towards the writings of Shakespeare, and teaches the audience an appreciation of the text in a fun, relatable, non-condescending way. There is also a strong message about the importance of striving to overcome impossible odds.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character?
I play the ghost of the actor John Barrymore (younger audiences will know his granddaughter Drew). In his later years, he was a notorious drunken Hollywood rabble-rouser. But in his younger days, he was a matinee and Broadway idol, considered the greatest American Hamlet of his generation.
Have you appeared in other productions of I Hate Hamlet before and who did you play and how is this production different and unique?
This is my third time playing the role of Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet. The first was in a production at the University of Guam in 1994. The second was with The Alliance Theatre in Chantilly, VA in 2002. (While performing in that one, I received word that I had been cast in the role of the King at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and attended my first rehearsal the week after closing that production).
The major difference this time around is the age of the character. As he is a ghost, he can – at the director’s discretion – appear at any age. In previous productions, I played him as a younger man. Now, I have the luxury of playing him more as he was near the end of his life – with more than just a tinge of the elder, drunken has-been.
What is your favorite scene in the show that you are not in and why? What is your favorite scene that you are in and why?
It is great fun watching Zak Zeeks and Malarie Novotny interact. I’ve performed with them separately in past shows, always playing their father (Zak in The Lion in Winter, and Malarie in Fiddler on the Roof.) In real life, Zak and Malarie are actually an engaged couple, and will be married in 2016. I feel like they’re my kids, and I am greatly enjoying the opportunity to finally perform with them together in the same show.
Zak plays a soap-opera heartthrob who’s just lost his series and is “reduced” to playing Hamlet in Central Park; Malarie is his ditzy, virginal girlfriend who happily immerses herself in the immortal romanticism of Shakespeare and Barrymore (without realizing that the actor’s ghost is standing right next to her the entire time.)
Regards scenes that I’m actually IN … I’m not copping out of that question, but it’s impossible to pick out one scene. Come see the show, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about – playing Barrymore is gleeful fun from the moment he steps on the stage to the moment the lights go down.
Which character in the show is most like you and why?
I refer you to my favorite line of Barrymore’s: “I DO NOT OVERACT. I simply possess the emotional resources of 10 men.” There’s your answer. I am a unabashed ham.
What do you admire most about your fellow castmates’ performances?
How they’ve adapted to performing with me. I’m not being egotistical here – I fully realize thatit can be difficult to take the stage with someone like me – a domineering, bombastic actor playing a domineering, bombastic role! But they’ve stepped up to the plate. This is particularly true with Zak, whom I spend the most time with. Despite my rather imposing figure, he can go toe-to-toe with me when the script calls for it. He can put me in my place admirably and believably. It’s a joy to watch, and great fun to be involved in.
What was the best advice or suggestions your director gave you about playing your character?
Let’s face facts – I am used to playing a King! The loud center of attention. Pay attention to me! And Barrymore is the sort of role where it’s easy to just step into that “take over everything” mindset and maintain it the entire time. But John knows – too much of that can become tiring to an audience. He and I have worked together on countless shows together for well over a decade, both as actors and directors. We know each other’s talents extremely well. I rely on John to constantly monitor me, and provide me with a sense of layering in portraying the character. And that doesn’t mean I have to “take it to 11” the entire time!
Why should audience goers bring their families to see I Hate Hamlet?
Occasionally this show will lightly break the 4th wall, and directly address that recalcitrant youngster who’s been dragged away from his xBox. One of the lines from the show is particularly telling: “Hey, kid! I’m with you! I can’t stand this stuff either.”
But … it’s a trap! At the end of the evening, they’ll realize – they’ve just seen a great comedy with special effects and sword fighting and belly laughs. They understood all the words, and completely forgot the fact that their parents insisted they do this. They actually learned a bit about Shakespeare WITHOUT having to endure “forsooth in tights”. And they had a great time in the process.
I Hate Hamlet plays from February 6-22, 2015 at 2nd Star Productions performing at Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (410) 757-5700 or (301) 832-4819, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of ‘I Hate Hamlet’ at 2nd Star Productions: Part 1: Fred Nelson.
Meet the Cast of ‘I Hate Hamlet’ at 2nd Star Productions: Part 2: Zak Zeeks.