Regicide and murder aside, there’s nothing rotten in the state of Denmark. “Hamlet Has No Legs,” adapted to the stage by Shaun Michael McNamara, loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and performed at The Maverick Theater, is, in fact, more like a Danish pastry.
Doing “Hamlet” with puppets, framing it as a fractured flicker, only works only if the story is clear, fast paced, well blocked and well spoken. It is.
McNamara cut out bits of the story so it clocks in at 75 intermissionless minutes. Close your eyes, it sounds like Shakespeare. Open your eyes and, well, let’s just say this is not your typical staging of the tale. The production overturns the idea that a well-wrought dramatic enactment should, via complications and denouement, postpone enjoyment until the end. Fortunate for us, there was no postponement of enjoyment. Taking to heart Hamlet’s sermon on acting (“Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action…), each speech, each gesture was filled with some manner of chicanery or buffoonery, some errant madness, madness to which there was a method.
As this second iteration shows (it previously ran at The Empire Theatre), the concept and subsequent execution of puppets performing classics has, um, legs, even if the characters don’t.
To great effect this blazing production contrasts tragedy and slapstick. An existential tale of murder and treachery that features larger than life characters, told with the elevated language of set pieces versus ludicrous, unscripted moments that features puppets, told with cheeky, improvised street talk.
The contrasts are apt because the story is so tragic, a point on which The All Puppet Players capitalize. With bodies falling like dominoes at the end, the story is absurd. The staging confirms the absurdity. Think about it. You, the Prince, (McNamara) come home, your father, the King, is dead. Your mother, Queen Gertrude (Kalinda Gray), has shacked up with your Uncle Claudius (Glenn Freeze). Your Father’s Ghost (Danny Montooth) visits you. It’s not a dream because others have seen the Ghost as well. By the end, not only are your mother, your stepfather, your female chum, Ophelia (Amber Luallen), and her father, Polonius (Nakaryk), dead, so are you.
The cast ran (metaphorically though, obviously, not literally) with the absurdity of the premise. By dint of its outrageousness as well as by the cast’s eagerness to improvise, the show plays off the reaction of the audience. Each performance thus becomes a work in progress. The audience (lively to begin with, more so once the show begins) commune with the cast throughout the evening. The moment that Rosencrantz (McNamara) and Guildenstern (Makaryk) appear on that Romeo and Juliet balcony, someone from the audience shouts “Show us some leg!” and the rout is on.
The show’s prior run at The Empire Theater felt like the sardine can stateroom scene in The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera.” This feels more like a circus: more characters on the stage, more athleticism (including an outrageous “Matrix”-like sword fight), and more room for wit to blossom. The larger stage also featured a wheeled out bank of chairs upon which the Danish Royal Family could watch Hamlet’s play-within-a-play. Not only does Laertes (Makaryk) try to nestle his arm around the shoulder of Queen Gertrude (Gray), he also asks someone in the front row, who had just returned to their seat, if they’d like them to replay the scene.
The cast nailed the puppet handling. Each character manages to speak with conviction to each other, each responds to each other’s cues and, in this case, gestures, so the suspension of belief (especially for such a spectacle) rang true. At the same time, the cast seems to be talking to us. It’s not just that the story resonates on so many levels, it feels as if the cast recreates it for each night’s audience. You get the sense that they not only wanted to entertain us by their words and actions, they wanted to engage us in the spectacle played out before us. All this made for a magical evening.
Performances are 8pm, Friday and Saturday, 4pm Sunday on January 23 and 30. The play runs until February 12. Tickets are $10-$20. The Theater is located at 110 E. Walnut Avenue, Fullerton. For more information call (714) 526-7070 or visit www.mavericktheater.com.