Get thee to an Armory.
There you’ll see the quixotic, well-done, and amusing “Hamlet, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark,” directed by Mike Sulprizio and Matthew Walker for Cal Rep.
If you like your Shakespeare shaken, not stirred, this commedia del arte channeling of Shakespeare is your tipple of choice.
The givens are regicide, grief, and calumny. Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius Hamlet, Horatio, and Ophelia. A ghost, a rampart, existential dithering, Machiavellian machinations, unrequited love, ear canal poison, sword-skewerings.
But it’s not a history lesson or literary analysis. And it’s certainly not a deconstruction.
The Troubadour Theatre Company (names of individual actors aren’t provided; this gives it an ensemble anonymity) darts and hams across the stage. Men appear as women, just as in Shakespeare’s time but the dude playing Ophelia (good job, by the way) is like something out of a John Waters movie.
Each time Hamlet is about to utter something iconic Horatio (great actress, by the way, her face registers solemn gravitas while the rest of her body is every which Cirque du Soleil way) pulls out a reporter’s notebook to record it for the ages.
There’s a gate of hell to which condemned souls are consigned. It resembles an oops, wrong choice door on Let’s Make a Deal.
The enjoyment of the production is a conditional one. If you calibrate your expectations to spectacle and not to tragedy, to slapstick and not to irony (and certainly not to drama), to a Princely version of Hee-Haw or Laugh-In, you’ll love it. It’s errant and silly. It’s a marvel of improv and fun. There’s nothing about a Norwegian invasion, just the sort of dysfunctional family story line that would make it to HBO or a reality show.
The acoustics at the Armory don’t lend themselves to clarity. Rah-rah-rah, We’re #1, Go team go, sure. “To be or not to be,” nope. It’s often hard to understand what the players are saying or singing and thus dilutes the Bard’s dulcet audio.
In this Bardic iteration the Armory provides a nice venue for the small band that wakes the dead (read: the Dane’s father) and a nifty little arena for the saltimbiquesque dancing and pratfalls.
The point of Sulprizio’s and Walker’s enterprise? They call it a parody, but really it’s more of a departure, a musical comedy of a threnody, a tongue in cheek evisceration of a tragedy. The Troubadour Theatre Company does acrobatic melodramatic tragedy well. They can sing and dance. They have comic timing and coordination of movement. They give us a literate – not literary – spectacle, a surreal, psychedelic experience. For those of us of a certain age, it’s like a Pink Floyd concert: multimedia, flashy, elevator of adrenaline, generator of buzz.
Performances are 7:30 PM, Tue. – Thu., 8 PM, Fri. & Sat.. There will be a 2 PM performance on Mar. 14 and no performances on Mar. 6 & 7. The show runs until Mar. 14. Tickets are $17-20. The Armory is located at 854 E. 7th St. For more info call 985-5526 or visit www.calrep.org.