Something’s rotten in LA, but a hard-boiled Hamlet is on the case

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Centastage’s Noir Hamlet, image by Joe Antoun

THE BOSTON GLOBE – STAGES – Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark as a wise-cracking private eye? His pal Horatio morphed into a complicated gal Friday named Rae Chio? The rotten state of Denmark transformed into the City of Angels circa 1949?

“Noir Hamlet,” presented by Centastage at the Boston Center for the Arts Black Box through June 30, combines playwright John Minigan’s twin fascinations with Shakespeare, whom he taught at Weston High School, and the noir genre.

“I wrote a 10-minute play in the noir style, and Paul Melendy [a Boston actor who stars as Hamlet in this production] suggested I turn it into a full-length play, and I thought, ‘Well, that might work for ‘Hamlet.’ ”

Although Minigan follows the outline of Shakespeare’s tragedy, he adds some plot twists of his own, along with the romantic interest, Rae Chio. The result is a funny and clever reimagining of the tale of the Melancholy Dane, filtered through the particular noir slang.

“It was important to me that I internalize the rhythms of the language,” Minigan says, “so I watched a lot of noir films and studied a glossary of noir terms.”

Joe Antoun, who is directing the production, has served as the artistic director of Centastage since 1991, producing only world premieres written by New England playwrights. Antoun also leads the playwriting group Write On!, where local playwrights and actors read works in development.

“John began attending our writing group,” says Antoun, “and he is prolific and generous and charming. Centastage only rarely stages full productions [the last was three years ago], but we all felt this script is incredibly funny and smart. It avoids becoming a gimmick because John touches on the high points of ‘Hamlet,’ but then changes the plot to make it unique.”

Minigan’s work has been gaining increasing traction lately, earning an Elliot Norton Award nomination for “Breaking the Shakespeare Code” in 2014, while “Queen of Sad Mischance” was named a finalist in this year’s O’Neill National Playwrights’ Conference. Several of his 10-minute plays have had productions and readings across the country and around the world.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to produce a script that’s really ready for audiences to see and respond to,” says Antoun.

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By Terry Byrne