Nathan Darrow to Play Hamlet at This Year’s Shakespeare Fest

A festival veteran, the Shawnee Mission North grad is now based in New York, where he has landed roles in “House of Cards,” “Billions,” “Gotham” and the upcoming “The Wizard of Lies.”

Nathan Darrow is coming for the summer.

The Shawnee Mission North graduate who plied his trade as a professional actor on local stages from 2003 through 2009 has found remarkable success on television since relocating to New York.

A graduate of the University of Evansville and New York University, Darrow made an indelible impression as Meechum, the taciturn bodyguard for Kevin Spacey’s murderous Frank Underwood on “House of Cards,” the Netflix series. He plays a recurring role on Showtime’s “Billions,” scored a gig as Mr. Freeze on “Gotham,” the Fox series, and will be seen in the upcoming HBO film, “The Wizard of Lies,” in which Robert De Niro will play corrupt stockbroker Bernie Madoff. Darrow plays one of his sons.

But this summer he returns to Kansas City, where he will play the title role in “Hamlet” for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, where Darrow was seen in “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Henry V.”

Speaking by telephone from New York, Darrow said bringing him home to play the Melancholy Dane was festival artistic director Sidonie Garrett’s idea.

“Sid reached out to me about it,” Darrow said. “She said this is happening, and she asked me if I wanted to and if I was available. I was immediately very excited because I had never been asked to play Hamlet before.”

Darrow said he thought about it for two weeks before he agreed to come back to the festival.

Garrett said she had visited the Utah Shakespeare Festival last year and saw a nice production of “Henry V,” which reminded her of the production she had directed in Kansas City with Darrow in 2006. She sent him a note to see if he was interested in coming back for “Hamlet.”

“He was immediately, positively responsive,” she said. “But I didn’t have any certainty that he would say yes.”

Garrett said she has much of the show cast with festival veterans, including Bruce Roach as Claudius, Jan Rogge as Gertrude, Mark Robbins as the Player King, Robert Gibby Brand as Polonius and Matt Rapport as the Gravedigger. The only possible disruption of plans would come in the form of a fabulous TV or movie offer Darrow couldn’t afford to turn down. She’s keeping her fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Darrow has immersed himself in the play and the role.

“It will be my first experience in a production of ‘Hamlet,’” he said. “You know, I’ve worked on a lot of speeches and themes and things like that. But I’ve never actually been in a production.”

“Hamlet” is considered to be among Shakespeare’s finest plays, and the character — a Danish prince who sets out to avenge his father’s murder — is one of those “mountain top” roles for actors of a certain age. In the play, the character muses on the inevitability of death, the nature of love and the desire for revenge.

“The art of Shakespeare is kind of massive and mysterious and incredible,” Darrow said. “And the skill at what he’s doing — the man’s subconscious gets poured into it. That’s what makes it an exciting piece but it makes it a difficult piece. It feels like it’s got a lot of the writer in it.”

Darrow recalled that he first encountered the play in his teens.

“I remember I was handed a copy of ‘Hamlet’ when I was 15 and this was when I was getting somewhat serious about acting,” he said. “Someone gave me a copy of the text and I just devoured it. On the heels of that, the same person gave me the Mel Gibson (movie version of) ’Hamlet.’ It was a fantastic rendering of what I had just swallowed. Because of the power of the work, I think it just penetrated me.”

Hamlet has been played by actors of various ages and different genders. Darrow, who is 40, imagines the character as being close to 30. He said different versions of the text yield conflicting clues.

“It seems like his age maybe changed in Shakespeare’s mind,” Darrow said. “In one version it seems like maybe he’s about 18. And in another he seems more like 30. So, if you ask me, I’m going with 30. That feels right to me. It raises the stakes and makes it stranger and more difficult that he is not crowned king. And as the only son it also makes sense that he gets to this point in his life without being smacked in the face by death.”

While shooting “Wizard of Lies,” Darrow shared screen time with De Niro, widely regarded as the finest film actor of his generation. The film, directed by Barry Levinson, is scheduled to premiere in May.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “It was such a kick to work with those people. He was terrific. He was prepared and he worked in a way that was relaxed and truthful and simple and free. And he was generous with everyone. It was an honor. I saw a cut of the movie and his performance is really, really special.”

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival production of “Hamlet” runs June 13 through July 7 in Southmoreland Park, just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. For more information, 816-531-7728 or www.kcshakes.org

About The Author: Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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