Reviewed by Bob Greene
No other play in history has been as discussed and dissected as Hamlet. No other play is so easily recognized – and quoted – as Hamlet as well. So, using Hamlet as his weapon of choice against the puppy mill that is Hollywood was a prudent choice of playwright Andrew Rothkin, who hands his thespians and their watchers a clever comedy/drama weaving classical themes into modern mores… with engrossing results.
The plot is simple: a good actor is angry that a bad actor is on Broadway (only because he knew who to screw) but here’s the twist – he plans on doing something about it. We are then taken on a journey showing us that we can all be Hamlet … if we’re not careful.
Eric Percival (who – in hindsight, strolled in with the audience, nice touch) plays Robert. A poor soul who is so tied to his mother that, when his first real relationship dissolves in a harsh and painful manner, he is all but unhinged. Hey… isn’t that just like Hamlet, Gertrude, and Ophelia? Robert decides to attend a production of Hamlet featuring a terrible movie star (played with no small level of rock-star charm by Ben Baur) and change the play in order to prove his point about the duplicity of the world. Hmmmm, you mean like a play within a play where in to catch the conscience … you get it? He is both aided and hindered by a horny Claudius (John Sarno giving us some excellent mugging and tom-foolery without ever loosing the classical actor demeanor), a pompous brown-nosing Polonius (J. Dolan Byrnes providing powerful stage presence and Noël Coward wit), a manipulated Ophelia, (Alexandra Cohen Spiegler, slightly over the top but enjoyable just the same), a street-wise Laertes (David C. Neal giving us his best under-five-on-the-Sopranos humor) a chicken Horatio (convincingly played by Adam Shiri), and a bevy of guards of all shapes and sexual preferences (Cameron Moir as a musical comedy queen and a brilliant Andrew Lemonier as a stoner). There is even a laborer (an excellent Flannery Spring-Robinson) who provides middle-class commentary – like one might expect from the laborer – or gravedigger – in Hamlet. Amada Anderson as a crazed fan was very funny but could have been used better in this “chorus” type of role.
Percival’s protagonist was truly well-played, handing us a man in great pain over a life not lived. He found a way of making us laugh amid his great tragedy and turned in some excellent delivery as Hamlet, the Dane, himself. Kelly Zekas was equal parts commanding and uproarious in her honest deadpan delivery as a stage manager who can sooth the savage beast; and Randi Sobol gave us a fine performance interpolating the queen with a woman who truly felt for the melancholy out-of-work-actor.
Special note to costume designer Cat Fisher, who, while the crappiness of her costumes is a running joke, created some excellent items and far more lavish than one grows to expect from a festival setting. Joan Kane directed this commedia with skill, moving the pace and people with great ease. She could have used more of the source material in her staging but it certainly didn’t hurt the piece; it would have only made classical theater geeks (yes, like this reviewer) happier.
Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services.