jeffrey carlson as hamlet

Jeffrey Carlson, I apologize.

Last year when I saw you in The Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Hamlet, I was not a fan. I know you were trying to convey Hamlet’s youth. But the flailing and whining was a bit much for me. Sure, Hamlet is young. I get it. But he also has some of the most profound, eloquent speeches in the English language. I just couldn’t see him as a petulant teenager. It was too, too silly-ed flesh.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. I saw your Hamlet again last night in the park, and I was blown away. It was beautiful. I laughed. I cried. The words were alive! O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! I am sorry I ever disliked your Hamlet. And I am sorry I will not be in town this weekend, so I cannot go see you again.

It’s a tough job, Hamlet. Everyone comes in with their own expectations for how you should play the role. And you risk standing in the shadow of other Hamlets. For me, the shadow was cast by my man Wallace Acton, who played Hamlet so beautifully at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2001. I went to see the play … oh, I think seven times? (I ushered, so it was free.)

What made your Hamlet so much more enjoyable the second time? Reduced expectations and the putting aside of the heavy shadow of my previous Wally Hamlet may have helped. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Maybe it was the magical setting of Carter Barron amphitheatre. Perhaps Teen Hamlet, Prince of Angst, has mellowed out a bit in the past year.

I am not sure what the difference was, but I loved your Hamlet last night. Loved it. I am a fan now. Please forgive me.

The Shakespeare Theatre Free for All continues tonight, tomorrow and Sunday in Carter Barron ampitheatre. Check here for information on how to get free tickets. If they free out, I think you can almost always get tickets at the gate; people don’t always show up.


It is the 11th day of Christmas. I still have the lights up in my cube, and Ned and I will make Christmas cookies and egg nog, celebrate 12th Night and exchange gifts this weekend. I recognize we are out of sync with the secular world, which starts doing all of this in November and quits on Dec. 25th. Alas!

I love Christmas music, and I miss hearing it in stores and public venues. However, my friend, the bug, confirms that the worst part of working holiday retail is the soundtrack. So I suppose my loss comes to the great joy of all the mall employees out there.

But I know at least some retail employees enjoyed their holiday tunes. The trendy Pulp store on 14th street in D.C. had a positively elf-like Christmas cheer when I was there in December. It was near closing time, and I assume the employees were itching to go home. But when “All I Want for Christmas is You,” started playing, they began to cheerily bop to the music and then proceeded to repeat the track THREE TIMES. “All I want for Christmas is yoooooou!” After the first playing, one employee shouted to the other, “Hey, we’ve got to listen to that one again!” Then after the second round, “one more time!” And for the fourth time, “Sorry everyone, but we’ve got to hear that again!” I would have been a bit weary of the song, but it was so nice to see trendy D.C. retail employees enjoying random Christmas cheer. I felt the love.

My one major workplace overdose of Christmas music was in my freshman year of college. I had a great job as “front of house staff” at the Koger Center for the Arts, a big auditorium in Columbia, SC. I would usher, take tickets or work the coat check for various shows. It was the perfect job for me, because I got paid to see all sorts of things I loved — like the SC Philharmonic and traveling Broadway, dance and music productions. I also saw more than my fair share of graduations and school ballet recitals — that’s when I was especially grateful for the 20 bucks I made each show.

In December, the Columbia City Ballet (a decent local professional ballet company) used the Koger Center for its many Nutcracker productions. I love “The Nutcracker,” so I signed up to work every performance. Ticket-takers or coat check people would stay outside and read during shows, but, as I mentioned, I love The Nutcracker, so I signed up to usher inside the house for each show, so I could be sure to see them all. As it so happens, my little sister was in another production of The Nutcracker that year at a different venue, so I also bought tickets to that see her show several times.
In total, I saw The Nutcracker 18 times that year. I have to say, by time number 15 or so, it was getting a little old. By the end of the run, I was pretty sure I could have been an understudy for most of the roles, except for the part where it would have been near-impossible to make my body do the things my mind had memorized (i.e. pirouette).

I remember when I went home for Christmas that year, one of my sisters cheerfully put on Tchzaikovsky’s Nutcracker, but I had to request its removal. I couldn’t hear it for the 20th time.

I eventually recovered and enjoyed ushering for The Nutcracker in subsequent years, though with greater moderation.

Those many Nutcrackers are still etched in my brain, and when I hear the music, I usually picture the Columbia City ballet dancers. This means that when The Nutcracker is playing as background music, I end up narrating along with it: “This is the ballroom scene, the adults are dancing around, and here is where Uncle Drosselmeyer enters, he is waving his arms, he is spooky… this is when the Christmas tree is growing … this is the Chinese tea dance, they are pointing their fingers in the air!” My husband recently informed me that this is slightly annoying, but I don’t know that I can stop it.

Tomorrow is the last day of Christmas, so I will be cramming in all my Christmas CDs, listening to them all as much as possible. The Nutcracker will be among those, and Mariclare Miranda will be playing the part of the widow in my mind’s ballet. I only hope the real-life rats that hang out behind our house do not join in the re-enactment.