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Mark St. Germain Adapting John Updike HAMLET Prequel for the Stage; Reading Set for Orlando!

Orlando Shakespeare Theater (Orlando Shakes) in Partnership with UCF continues to expand its mission to bring thought-provoking new theatrical works to Central Florida through a commission with playwright Mark St. Germain to write an adaptation of John Updike's bestselling novel, Gertrude and Claudius.

A staged reading of the play will be featured at the Theater's annual play festival, PlayFest 2017 presented by Harriett's Charitable Trust, and is scheduled to receive a world premiere in 2019 as part of Orlando Shakespeare Theater's 30th season.

Gertrude and Claudius is a New York Times and Washington Post best seller and has received national and global acclaim.

John Updike's bestselling novel tells the story of Gertrude and Claudius, the "villains" of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Claudius is the killer of Hamlet's father and usurper of the Danish throne and Gertrude-Claudius' lusty consort-marries him before her late husband's body is cold. But in this imaginative "prequel" to the play, Updike makes a case for the royal couple that Shakespeare only hinted at. Gertrude and Claudius are seen afresh against a background of fond intentions and family dysfunction, on a stage darkened by the ominous shadow of a sullen, erratic, disaffected prince.

"I hoped to keep the texture light," Updike said of the novel, "to move from the mists of Scandinavian legend into the daylight atmosphere of the Globe. I sought to narrate the romance that preceded the tragedy."

Updike was the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director of Orlando Shakespeare Theater, has wanted to produce a stage version of Updike's novel since he read the book upon its initial release in 2001.

"Hamlet is Shakespeare's most famous and popular play, and the idea that we can dive deeper into its legendary cast of characters is really exciting," said Helsinger. "Updike's narrative fills out the backstory of the love affair between Gertrude and Claudius perfectly and we could not think of a better playwright to adapt it for us than Mark St. Germain."

Mark St. Germain's work has been featured several times at Orlando Shakes, including their 2015 production of Dancing Lessons and their 2014 production of Best of Enemies. Other works by St. Germain include Relativity (2016/2017), Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah (2013), Dr. Ruth, All the Way (2012), Freud's Last Session (2009/2010), The Collyer Brothers/Period Piece (2008), The God Committee (2004), and Ears on A Beatle (2003). Germain is an alumnus of New Dramatists where he was given the Joe A. Callaway Award, and a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Writer's Guild East. He was also awarded the "New Voices In American Theatre" award at the William Inge Theatre Festival and is a Board Member at Barrington Stage Company.

"Mark St. Germain is a magnificent playwright. Besides directing Dancing Lessons, I've had the pleasure of seeing his work at theatres large and small across the country," said Cynthia White, Director of New Play Development at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. "His talent for bringing to life historic events and personalities with vivid, imagined dialogue will serve him well as he undergoes this new project."

PlayFest 2017 presented by Harriett's Charitable Trust, tentatively scheduled for November 2-5, 2017.

For ticket and more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater Productions, call (407) 447-1700 ext. 1, visit, or stop by in person at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center (812 E. Rollins St.).

World premiere commissioned and produced by Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF Artistic Director Jim Helsinger and Managing Director PJ Albert. Funding generously provided by Rita and John Lowndes.

Founded in 1989, Orlando Shakespeare Theater (Orlando Shakes) in Partnership with UCF produces classic, contemporary, and children's plays. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Jim Helsinger and Managing Director PJ Albert, Orlando Shakes has grown into one of the region's most acclaimed professional Equity theaters, garnering national recognition from The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout. "Hence the high quality of Orlando Shakespeare, a company that deserves to be far more widely known outside Florida." With ambitious, high-caliber productions like 2015's Monty Python's SPAMALOT and Peter and the Starcatcher, and breakout new works like 2016's Dancing Lessons, the Theater continues to provide an innovative world-class theatrical experience to its guests, while showcasing William Shakespeare's legacy as the cornerstone of the company. Orlando Shakes also offers immersive educational programming that serves Central Florida schools and the local community at large. For more information visit

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