Bound in a Nutshell
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
August 12, 2008
Bound in a Nutshell, adapted from William Shakespeare's Hamlet by Gregory Sherman (who also plays Horatio) and Gregory Wolfe (who also directs), is an interesting experiment in re-imagining the famous play for the age of television crime dramas. Clever it may be, but clever does not a compelling time at the theatre make.
The lines are all from Hamlet, but they arrive in a different order and from different mouths than we are used to. This, ultimately, is disconcerting. Sometimes a disconcerting experience can have a positive effect on stage as it helps focus the audience members' minds on the particulars of what is being said. Here, however, the effect is distracting. I found myself wondering why Horatio had lines belonging to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or why Claudius had lines belonging to Polonius. The answer seemed to be that they fit logistically rather than serve the internal lives of the characters. The choices made coldly dampened any emotional impact that they might have had.
The setting has been moved from Elsinore to the police stations, prison cells, and courtrooms of a modern democracy; the conceit is that Hamlet has been arrested for the murder of Polonius and is going to trial. Indeed, the pitch for the play might have simply been: what happens when Hamlet collides with Law & Order. Again, the setting (including a close-circuit television) is clever, but the cleverness wears thin. By the time Hamlet was speaking with Ophelia through bullet-proof glass, I could feel myself screaming inside, "I get it."
There is one moment in the play that rings with truth and emotional power. In Shakespeare, Claudius confesses his sins alone. Here, he confesses them to Hamlet. With this simple scene—two men with a shared history sitting in chairs—the reinvention seems necessary. For in changing Claudius's audience, Sherman and Gregory change the very meaning of this soliloquy. It is strong, it is potent, and it is revelatory. A great theatrical moment burns incandescent in those five minutes; if only the adapters could have taken the impulse and used it for the rest of their work.
Unfortunately, on a couple of occasions they completely jump the rails. I will not ruin the ending, but I will say that it strains credulity and is completely unmotivated. A play that reinterprets Hamlet should provide its audience with some new insight into that work. However, this provides revelation neither about Hamlet nor Law & Order.
Bound in a Nutshell boasts some effective ensemble work, with notable performances by Zachary Zito as a demented doctor, Andrew Uhlenhopp in multiple roles, and, in particular, Christopher Yates as an oily and cunning Claudius. Wolfe directs with skill, and his set design—especially given the restraints of FringeNYC—is strong. He is ably supported on the design front by Brant Thomas Murray (lights) and Megan Ann Richardson (costumes).