“Families can be confusing”

Posted: October 14th, 2010 | No Comments »

Originally posted by Thomas Hampton Reviews

“Families can be confusing.”  Polonius

Make no mistake; this is not your father’s Hamlet, nor your mother’s.  In fact, HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES is not even my Hamlet, but he did manage to strike a blow with poisoned sword and peed-in pants.

The entertainment value (and age of the clientele it is geared towards) of L’Enfant Terrible’s first production is self evident, beginning with the crayons scattered about the lobby to occupy one’s time waiting for the house to open, paired with coloring book images of our be-puddled hero that were distributed with programs.

A sense of eerie whimsy is engaged by slightly creepy calliope music accompanying the bubbles the audience walks through to their seats, but that is about as tragic as this show allows itself to be.  Angela Berliner (playwright and Ophelia) mines the depths of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, distilling the tragedy to a brisk tale shy of an hour.

HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES utilizes a highly stylized physicality with touches of ‘New Crime’ commedia; a quick read through the program reveals that over half of the cast has performed with The Actors’ Gang…  no surprise there.  Director Justin Zsebe incorporates finger puppets, crying jags, perpetually be-puddled pants, and a running gag reminiscent of a ‘paper cut’ to thwart our hero’s happily ever after.

Choosing a ‘classic classic’ like Hamlet to skewer and truncate gives L’Enfant Terrible the gravitas often necessary to attract the attention of monied patrons (as well as a familiar plot and themes socially relevant to any audience.)  The entire show takes place in and around a ‘Medicine Wagon’ that allows the troupe to pack up and hit the road to bring their work to an audience at a school, community center, or private party.

The cast consistently creates moments of warm, infectiously self conscious hilarity, throwing out enough pop culture references to keep tweens’ and adults’ minds moving in time with the rapid pace of our Dane’s dilemma.  But the real purpose of L’Infant Terrible’s work is to introduce new (more youthful) audiences to the wonder of live performance.  They are off to a great start…

But who cares what an aging Bon-Vivant/ online critic way past the age of seven has to say about this show, regardless of his delusional attempts to keep adulthood firmly at bay?  What did the littlest audience members think?  Observing the target audience enraptured by the cast at the post-show meet ‘n greet and picture op, the kids… they like it.

The physicality of the performances, the way that Berliner’s adaptation distills each character’s motivations and emotional center in a way easily observed by the nine and under set, inspires a certain wonder.  The freedom the players have been given to break the fourth wall resonates more deeply within a live performance than a studio’s latest spectacle.  One cannot compare a 3-d film to real actors trampling across your row in the midst of a duel to the death.

In contrast to a line of kids at Disneyland seeking manufactured ‘autographs’ from cookie cutter animations, L’Enfant Terrible is wooing a new generation of theater patrons.  By engaging the audience after the show, the cast of HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES reinforces the magical suspension of disbelief that their target audience is slightly cognizant of.  And that is worthy of our applause.

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