Spring 2016

Volume 11, Issue 1



Hawking Hamlet


Cast of Characters

WILL SHAKESPEARE (30s), writer

LARRY KAUFMAN (50s), studio executive



Studio executive's office



Present day



A sign center stage reads: “A short time ago, in a universe pretty much right next door…”


The sign is removed.                                                                                                    

(Light up on LARRY'S OFFICE. DAY.

WILL, thirties, enters, carrying a portfolio. He wears splints on his forearms. LARRY, late fifties, is at his desk, on the phone. The other phone is ringing.)

LARRY: (on phone) Jerry, babe, you're not listening. Look, hol-hold on. (looks out door) Janice, could you...? Jesus. (picks up other line) Hello? Who? Okay, I'll have to get back to her after, uh... Well, tell her whatever. The next total eclipse... Listen, I gotta jump... (he returns to first phone) Hello? Yeah. Who's this? Oh, yeah, Jerry. Get 'em under two mil and we'll talk. Okay, I gotta jump. (hangs up, finally looks at Will) Oh, here you go.

(Larry picks up a package, hands it to Will who steps forward to take it.)

WILL: What's this?

LARRY: You don't work here?

WILL: No. I'm your noon appointment. Your secretary sent me in.

(Will gives the package back. Larry sets it on his desk.)

LARRY: What's your name again?

WILL: WIll. Will Shakespeare.

LARRY: Never heard of you. You sure you have an appointment?

WILL: Nick Simons sent me.

LARRY: Oh, Nick, Nick, right. Okay, sit down.

(Will sits, puts his portfolio on his lap.)

LARRY: So, you're the guy from Massachussets. You have a nice flight out here?

WILL: Yes, thanks.     

LARRY: What’s with the splints?         

WILL: I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Too much typing.

LARRY: Oh, yeah? Huh. So, where are you staying?

WILL: With a friend.

LARRY: Anybody I'd know?

WILL: Maybe. Do you know Jimmy Fandango?

LARRY: Do I know Jimmy Fandango? The F-word? You kidding? Every time someone mentions his name around here, I make 'em put a quarter in a jar. Man's a genius. How do you know him?

WILL: Junior high school.

LARRY: Junior high?

WILL: Well, he sort of dropped out after that.

LARRY: Uh-huh. Well, anyway, you've got a... a script idea, Nick tells me.

WILL: Yes. Actually, it's a little past the idea stage.

LARRY: Yeah? So, what did you do, write a treatment or something?

WILL: Actually, it's a finished piece.

LARRY: Don't tell me you brought it with you.

(Will has already started to take a thick script out of the portfolio.

Larry looks at his watch.)

LARRY: All right, listen, this is the deal, Bill. I'm gonna grab lunch at this French sushi place in a few minutes. Why don't you put War and Peace back in your bag. Just tell me the story. (presses a button on his phone) Janice, book me a table at Chez Ito for one o'clock. (to Will) So, what did you say this thing was called? Your script.

WILL: (putting script away) It's called Hamlet.

LARRY: Hamlet?

WILL: Yes.

LARRY: Well, you can always change a title.

(Will stares at him.)

LARRY: Okay, you better tell me the story.

WILL: It's about a man... Hamlet, who--

LARRY: That's his... what, his last name?

WILL: First, last... he only has one name.

LARRY: What's he, a rock star?

WILL: No, he's a prince.

LARRY: A prince? What are you talking about?

WILL: He's prince of Denmark.

LARRY: Denmark. Why Denmark?

WILL: Because that's where he was born.

LARRY: No, I mean, why'd you pick Denmark? 

WILL: I didn't. The script's based on a play by a writer named Thomas Kyd, which, in turn, was based on actual events.

LARRY: Kidd, huh? What are his credits?

WILL: He doesn't have credits. He's been dead four hundred years.

LARRY: Jesus, what is this, a period piece?

(Larry's face shows horror and disgust.) 

LARRY: Okay, enough with the backstory, tell me how the thing starts.

WILL: It starts--

(A phone in Larry's jacket rings.)

LARRY: Excuse me. (answers it) Hello... Yeah...  No, no... Look, the decorator may not even show up. Just keep painting... Okay.  Thanks. Bye. (putting phone away;  to Will) Okay, you have my complete and divided attention. Undivided. What's the plot?

WILL: Hamlet's father, the king, has just died and his uncle's married the Queen, his mother.

LARRY: Married the mother. Got it.

WILL: His father's ghost appears to him and tells him that he was murdered by the uncle and makes him swear vengeance.

LARRY: Murdered by the uncle. Who's making it with the mother. He wants revenge. Okay. Sort of a Christopher Marlowe type thing.

WILL: Marlowe, yeah. But the thing is... See, Hamlet's a bit... philosophical... so he doesn't do anything right away. He thinks about it before he kills the uncle.

LARRY: Okay, fine. So what's the hook?

WILL: The hook?

LARRY: The hook. I just spent an hour in traffic, twenty-five bucks on tickets, another ten on stale popcorn and bad Diet Sprite, why am I watching this?

WILL: You're... interested?

LARRY: I am?

WILL: Aren't you?

LARRY: Not yet, no. Why should I be?

WILL: The situation's interesting.

LARRY: Yeah, I mean, fine, okay, for openers, maybe. But this isn't exactly high-concept stuff. What's the payoff?

WILL: The prince and king end up locked in this game of cat and mouse.

LARRY: Ah. Okay, I get it. Sort of a psychological thriller...

WILL: Uh... In a way.

LARRY: So is there a girl?

WILL: A girl?

LARRY: A love interest. For, uh...

WILL: Hamlet?

LARRY: Right.

WILL: There's a character named Ophelia.

LARRY: So, what, they're in love?

WILL: Well, sort of. I mean, they were. They would be. Under other circumstances. But it's more complicated than that.

LARRY: I certainly hope so. Is there any nudity?

WILL: What do you mean? On screen?

LARRY: As opposed to what? Yeah, on screen.

WILL: No, there's no nudity.

(Larry stares at him in disbelief.)

LARRY: All right, well, anyway, you can always add some skin...  Tell me the rest of it.

WILL: Well, uh... in the end, the king decides to get rid of Hamlet.

LARRY: Good. He hires some killers?

WILL: Not exactly. He has to be discreet, because he doesn't want Hamlet's mother to know what's going on. What he does is, he ships Hamlet off to England with these two attendants, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who're supposed to deliver a sealed message--

LARRY: All right, I get the picture. So how does he escape?

WILL: Hamlet? Well, he suspects foul play, so he switches the sealed message with a duplicate telling the English king to kill the message bearers instead of--

LARRY: So, the two Jewish guys get it.

WILL: The Jewish guys?

LARRY: Rosenstern and, uh...

WILL: Oh. Yeah.

LARRY: The other guy. So then what? He goes back, kills the king?

WILL: Well, it's a little more involved than that.

LARRY: He kill him or not?

WILL: Yes, he kills him.

LARRY: Good. Now, does he get the girl?

WILL: No. Why?

LARRY: What happens the way you have it at the moment?

WILL: At the moment? It's how I've always had it... They both die.

LARRY: Okay, uh, look, Will... Can I speak frankly?

WILL: Of course.

LARRY: I got some changes to recommend to you. You okay with that?

WILL: Um… I don't know. Before you recommend changes, shouldn't you read the script first or something?

LARRY: What for? You just told me the whole thing.

WILL: But the subtleties of... of character, plot.  The... the drama, the poetry of it...

LARRY: There's poetry in it?

WILL: No, but the language, you understand, it's meant to be... evocative.

LARRY: Yeah, great. Listen. Why don't I just give you my suggestions, and we'll go from there. Okay, Will?

WILL: Okay. Fine.

LARRY: Alright, now, personally, I'd go this way. First of all... Okay... The whole thing's set in a corrupt Southern town. Hamlet's the guy's last name. Drew Hamlet, say.  Yeah, that's not bad...

(Will opens his mouth as if to speak.)

LARRY: Now -- the story. Number one, forget about the ghost. Too supernatural. The way that Hamlet finds out the uncle did it is because he leaves something at the scene of the crime, that Hamlet finds. You follow me. See, now he has evidence. He knows the whole deal. Okay, now, I know what you're thinking. Why doesn't he go to the cops? Easy. Because his uncle's got the mayor in his hip pocket. The whole city's corrupt, and the uncle's running it. Hamlet's gotta take the big cheese down himself. Only he can't do it alone. Why? Because the uncle's too big. That's where Ophelia comes in. She works for the uncle. She's his... personal assistant... She knows all his secrets... So she teams up with Hamlet, and together, they go after the uncle... Etcetera, etcetera. Now, that'll get some butts into the megaplex, what do you think?

(Will stares at him.)

LARRY: Of course, now, I'm no writer. And that was all off the top of my head. You may be able to improve on it... slightly.


WILL: Listen, uh... Mr. Kaufman...

LARRY: Call me Larry.

WILL: Larry. Um, you spoke frankly before. May I?

LARRY: Shoot, babe.

WILL: I don't think you understand something. This is a serious script. It's completed. It's very important to me. It may be the best work I ever do. Nick said that you were interested in it--

LARRY: Yeah, look... uh, Bill, we've got a lot of projects cooking, you know what I'm saying? My job is to be interested in anything that comes here through the proper channels. Now, if you'd said to me, "My script's about... ," I don't know, something... that grabs you... and as you were telling me the story, an actor's name just popped into my head... I don't know... say, Brad Pitt...

WILL: You haven't read the script!

LARRY: I don't need to read it.  All right, here, look, give it to me.  Open it to a good page.

(Will takes the script out again and hands it to Larry, open.)

LARRY: Okay. Interior, castle, day, what's happening?

WILL: He's... thinking.

LARRY: I said a good part, didn't I? What's this? "To be or not to be. That is the question." Woah. Hold the phone! Okay. I can stop reading now. You know why?

WILL: Why?

LARRY: Because I'm lost. What the hell does he mean? To be or not to be? To be or not to be what?

WILL: What?

LARRY: To be or not to be what?

WILL: Alive.

(Larry puts down the script, picks up a pen.)

LARRY: So why don't you say it? To be or not to be... (writing on page) alive. Now, see, that's clear. No confusion. Of course, it still stinks.

(Will laughs.)

LARRY: Want to know why? Because it's depressing.

WILL: Well, I'm sorry, but the character's depressed...

LARRY: So what? Who cares? What's wrong with him? He's prince of Denmark. A whole country. He's got this Amelia babe. It's like pop a Prozac, pal, and spare us the agony.  Who's gonna sympathize?

WILL: I think everyone will sympathize. Because his condition is universal. He's grappling with large issues.

LARRY: Do you know what the average moviegoer considers a "large issue?" To buy or to lease. You want to give him a dilemma or something? Make him have to choose between two things that are meaningful. Like the throne and the woman he loves. Or his revenge and the throne. Or the woman and the revenge. Any combination'll do...

(The phone rings. Larry picks up.)

LARRY: Yeah, what...? Okay, thanks... (hangs up) Look, Will, I gotta run.  You know the way out, right?


WILL: So what did we decide?

LARRY: About what?

WILL: About the script.

LARRY: Uh, yeah. I don't know.  Work on it.

(Larry moves the script across his desk with some difficulty.)

LARRY: Shorten it.

(Silence. Will stares at him.)

LARRY: All right, look, you want one last piece of advice? Ask Jimmy to check it out. He's about as good a writer as we got on the planet. Actually, I forget if I mentioned it, he's working on something for me right now. An action script. He's gonna... "Jimmify" it for us.

WILL: Jimmify it?

LARRY: You know, punch it up. Get some relationship stuff going between the characters, that kind of thing.


LARRY: Anyway, so long, Bill. Nice meeting you. Good luck to you.

WILL: Thanks.

(Will stands, exits. Long pause. Larry stands, picks up the script.)

LARRY: Hamlet.

(He chuckles. Looks at it for a beat.

Then he drops it in his garbage can.)



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