A Princely Production

Posted: October 29th, 2010 | No Comments »

This review by Tony Frankel was originally posted at Stage and Cinema.

Once in a great while, a play will have me floating off the ground as if I had just been licked by God; a play that makes me feel better for having been alive; it encompasses great writing, acting, direction, and a triumphant technical team. Examples this past year are Cousin Bette at Antaeus, The Browning Version at Pacific Resident Theatre, and Four Places at Theatre/Theater.

Now comes along a 50-minute miracle, a L’Enfant Terrible Production of Hamlet, Prince of Puddles. What, you say? A children’s show? No. This is (gulp, how do I say this without sounding saccharine-y?) for the whole family. In fact, we were there sans kids and had a walloping-good time. This inventive, brilliant production is what we wish Disney would design when they promote family viewing (but they turn out Tinker Bell rip-offs for teenage girls instead).

Not only were the children present at the Bootleg Theater squealing with delight at the antics of Hamlet (who tended to cry a lot and even peed in his pants), but so were the adults. It’s basically a synopsis of Hamlet’s emotionally draining situation, focusing on girlfriend Ophelia, her dad Polonius, Hamlet’s mom Gertrude, uncle/dad Claudius, and real dad/ghost. I never remember feeling so empathetic to Hamlet’s plight.

The hilarious script is by L’Enfant Terrible founder Angela Berliner, who also plays Ophelia. Modern dialogue and rap are interspersed with the Bard’s famous lines, but Berliner is only interested in the meat of the story. Hamlet is just an awkward teenager who would rather play baseball and hang out with his TWILIGHT-loving girlfriend, Ophelia. Hamlet is so sad when his dad dies, and mom is so sad that she doesn’t realize the King’s brother is a bad man and a liar, so she marries him. This makes Hamlet even sadder. Hamlet knew that he must avenge his father’s death, but he was just a kid and didn’t know what to do. Long story short (literally), Hamlet takes vengeance, but at what cost? Who else gets hurt by his vengeance? And, according to the synopsis, was there anyone left to feed the cat?

The amazing thing is that everyone who dies in the original Hamlet falls down dead in this one, too! (Actually, they disappear through a trap in the floor). It’s a glorious achievement when Shakespeare can be introduced to kids in a way that makes them interested in theatre, magic, imagination, and maybe finding better ways to deal with their sadness.

Wait, who the hell am I kidding? I myself picked up Hamlet and started reading it again – AND [all caps] thought about the times in my life when I should have let my anger go.

But all of these things happened to me while I laughed! I was magnificently entertained. I wanted the show to go on all night. Could they make this an event that the world could see? Right now, the goal is theatre that everyone can afford (the top ticket price is $9.99!) and this troupe wants to take it to the schools.

For L’Enfant Terrible is interested in one thing: creating a group of future theatre lovers and artists. Their goal is to make children’s theatre just as subversive, intelligent and memorable as the best new work being produced today for the grown-ups. Check.

Director Justin Zsebe is wildly imaginative and original. It is impossible that this experience is a fluke. Major shrieks of delight go to set designer Francois-Pierre Couture (the moveable toy-box theatre used in this performance can be broken down in half an hour!), and to Ann Closs Farley for those adorable costumes.

The cast includes Nathan Kornelis, Natasha Midgley, and Nicol Razon. You rock, dudes! And to the very wet Hamlet, Brian Kimmet: what divine god of the theatre transported you before me? Your performance shone with radiant love and light. Too corny? Well, you make me want to be a better theatregoer and a better artist. I’m throwing rose petals in your direction.

Thank you, everyone.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

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