How to Hamlet, Or Hamleting Hamlet
by JK Clarke
Most of us have work anxiety dreams: showing up to a sales meeting completely unprepared, having thousands of customers in a restaurant but no chef, etc, etc. But can you imagine being an actor in the middle of a nightmare in which you’re supposed to perform Hamlet yet you not only don’t know the words, but are pretty sketchy on the story? That’s sort of the mood hanging over Theater Reconstruction Ensemble’s (TRE) How to Hamlet, Or Hamleting Hamlet, now playing at HERE as part of SubletSeries@Here program (which provides discounted space and equipment and technical support to emerging artists).
With the play starting outside the fourth wall and eventually venturing back in, Hamleting Hamlet (written by John Kurzynowski—who also directs—and Jon Riddleberger) is a melange of surrealism and absurdism more in the spirit of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author than anything Shakespearean; and more improv oriented than structured, classical theater. The story isn’t as complex as it might seem: a group of actors, attending a show (they think) are made aware that they are the actors and the play they’re performing is . . . Hamlet! Yikes. Talk about the dream where you’re taking a test that you didn’t study for! Reluctantly at first, they scramble to pull it off, though they don’t appear to even know the exact storyline. They vamp and improvise. A rack of “Elizabethan” looking clothing (puffy pants, neck ruffles) are brought out and that gets them in the spirit a bit more. They don’t quite get the sequences right, but hit key elements as well as some relatively obscure scenes (i.e. the introduction of acting troupe Hamlet uses to expose his father’s murder to the court). And their language is modernized (one can’t help think of a scandalous recent call for submissions by an American theater company to write modernized versions of Shakespeare’s plays), though spoken in “actorly” tones to make them sound more thespian. They’re clever ruses and amusing cover ups that take on an almost slapstick quality.
If Hamleting Hamlet does nothing else, it drives home two important points: first, that Shakespeare is not just complex, but a beautiful work of art that cannot be replicated on-the-fly; second, that both putting on a play and the art of acting are incredibly painstaking processes conducted by skilled artists. It’s a peek (for those who don’t have the background) inside the machinery that makes plays “happen” and can serve to make one appreciate what it takes to get a production off the ground.
The cast of Hamleting Hamlet—Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb and Emily Marro—are a fun, competent group who deftly pull off this mind-twist. But it’s inside baseball; a sly, heady production probably best suited for those “in-the-know” (actors and crew types), who will get more of the jokes and may or may not enjoy seeing their daily anxieties played out on stage.
How to Hamlet, Or Hamleting Hamlet. Through April 14 at HERE (145 6 Ave. (enter on Dominick Street one block south of Spring). 70 minutes, no intermission. www.here.org
Photos: Suzi Sadler