Living Dead in Denmark

nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
April 10, 2013

Seeing how many characters die in Shakespeare's Hamlet, what if they as well as Lady Macbeth and Juliet were resurrected in a zombie apocalypse?  It's a great idea for a play, and was originally presented several years ago by Vampire Cowboys, noted purveyor of "geek theater".  For Just Kidding Theatre Company's revival, the wide appeal is that Hamlet was the one asking about life and death, and if existential curiosity makes someone a geek, I say let there be geeks in every age.  But this is a special show; if you want, you can sit in the splash zone, where you will need both of the plastic raincoats on your seat to protect against fake blood.

Poor Ophelia (Krissy Garber) loses her mind and drowns in the brook.  Yet when she opens her eyes again, in a hospital room, she is fully possessed of her faculties.  She has missed the "denouement" of the play.  Mostly everyone is dead, except bald, menacing Fortinbras (Stephan Goldbach), who is examining her.   Ophelia strikes out on her own to visit the grave of Hamlet, which at this hour, is a good place to be attacked by the hordes of undead now roaming Denmark.  Fortunately, the dynamic duo of Juliet (Kimberly Nordstrom) and Lady Macbeth (Jessica Randell)--who, in this story, are overflowing with Sapphic sentiments--rescue Ophelia and recruit her to fight the leaders of the zombies.  The true evildoers include Fairy Queen Titania (Ivy Hong) and Hamlet (Matthew Mollenkopf), who is very much alive, or at least unburied.  Does Ophelia's new heart-throb Horatio (Elohim Pena) have a brain in his head?  Does Ophelia have a heartbeat?

The play seems to be asking why some undead become bloodthirsty brain eaters, why that makes the living counterattack, and if this justifies the killing of all those souls.  I don't think there's supposed to be a conclusion to this debate, which is quite a relief since it tends to distract from the sword fighting that Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet have choreographed.  A bit of extra geekiness surfaces when the four lumpenproletariat zombies (Gerard Chamberlain, Anna Ilina, Arielle Strauss, and Ricky Whitcomb) appear dressed as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thus finally adding nunchaku to the Hamlet experience.  It's a pleasure to see that, seven years ago, Qui Nguyen and company developed a play that, marinated in the wisdom of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, nowadays can give "The Walking Dead" a run for its money. Kudos to director Kathleen Kelly for moving such a large ensemble around through both the ethical questions and the "visceral" death scenes.  David Rubin's sets are functional and easily wheeled around into the next configuration, which keeps the action flowing like blood from a corpse.  Maxim Pekarskiy's original music adds extra drama, while Feliziano Flores's lighting is de rigueur for ghost appearances.  The costumes designed by Sabrina Vance, Sarah Davis and Sue Nordstrom are well-suited to jumping around.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's hair speaks strongly of things stoner, while the surgical scars on Fortinbras and the zombies are not easy to forget.

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