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Director Jack Parrish pulls together some attention-grabbing players, starting with a surprising "Hamlet."

The Cast is the Thing

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It may be the most coveted male role in theater, and yet Foster Solomon never thought he would play it. The actor lists other plum roles he's considered: "I've been close as hell to being Macbeth; I could see myself as [King] Lear in a couple of years; I've played Othello twice." So why not Shakespeare's summit, the brooding Danish prince Hamlet? "I guess I had fallen into the trap," Solomon says. "In the back of my mind, Hamlet was small, white and blond."

Solomon, on the other hand, is big, black and bald. On the basis of those characteristics alone, some people may be surprised at his starring turn in the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's production of "Hamlet." But director Jack Parrish says he's just the man for the job. "Foster's got all the necessary requisites for the role," he says. "He's hardworking, has a good intellect and technical expertise. He really understands Shakespeare. It's a difficult role, but putting Foster in it was a very easy choice."

According to Parrish, race had little to do with his casting decisions: "Hamlet's father and mother are white," he says. "His stepfather is black." Finding the best actor for the demanding title role was the director's main goal. "Not many people are engaging enough to throw a show on their shoulders and run with it. [Much of "Hamlet"] is almost a one-man show," Parrish asserts. "You need an actor with the personal charisma to keep an audience interested for one-and-a-half hours of a two-hour show."

For this production, Parrish has pulled together a cast of distinctive talents, several from out of town. Solomon calls Atlanta home and has spent most of the year co-directing a feature film there. Peter Wylie, who is playing Laertes, has been touring with the Olney Theatre based in Washington, and Sarah Wiggin (Ophelia) has done most of her work in Arizona.

Returning to Richmond for this production will be fringe favorite Chris Harcum, who has been attending graduate school at the University of Virginia for the past year. After completing his stint as Horatio, Harcum will begin filming his one-man theater piece, "Some Kind of Pink Breakfast." That show was a highlight of Richmond's theater season last year.

Also rounding out the cast will be Scott Wichmann, who has followed one remarkable role with another since playing Frank Sinatra in the Barksdale Theatre's, "Ella and Her Fella Frank," last November. Wichmann will be the gravedigger in "Hamlet," fresh from his over-the-top portrayal of Bottom in RSF's season-opening comedy, "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Parrish, who has only directed Shakespearean comedies before, sees a great challenge in the transition to tragedy. "Tragedy is difficult because you get into very touchy psychological issues with actors," he says. "The cast has been very trusting and willing to put themselves in my hands so we can dig into some very extreme emotions."



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