Ryan Kathman teaches at St. Benedict. He's also an actor and the creator of One Ham Manlet, a comedy-forward solo take on Hamlet currently on stage at Theatre Memphis. The words are Shakespeare's but reduced from its nearly four-hour original length to a hearty, 90-minute Shakespeare sauce. "The thing theater has over film, and it's not embraced enough, is the audience's imaginations," he says, describing his approach to the source material. "We want them to fill in the gaps."
Kathman teaches his students that actors sometimes need to make their own opportunities. He originally performed One Ham Manlet for them. The solo show is, in some measure, the teacher taking his own advice. He knew he wasn't getting younger and wondered if anybody else might give him a chance to play Hamlet. Or Ophelia, for that matter. Polonius? Horatio? The famous skull?
"I'm one of those people who sometimes thinks it's unfortunate that we categorize Shakespeare's plays into comedies and tragedies," Kathman says. One of his goals from the beginning was to highlight just how funny tragedy can be. "The best productions of Shakespeare I've seen have embraced a blend," he says, hoping that playing many characters with many voices affords comic opportunities while playing into one of the play's big questions — is Hamlet mad?
One Ham Manlet isn't just 90 minutes of Kathman talking to himself. He also fights himself too. And puts on puppet shows. And ... whatever it takes.
"What makes what I'm doing unique is how I can wink at the conventions of a one-man show and find theatrical solutions to problems like, how do you have a sword fight with yourself? How do you have a play within the play? How do you have the appearance of a ghost?"