Hamlet Shut Up
nytheatre.com review by Ethan Angelica
August 14, 2010
Shakespeare's Hamlet. A comedy? The play with one of the stage's talkiest roles, and a total of three words spoken onstage during the entire 90-minute show? This I gotta see, I thought, as I was picking shows for this year's FringeNYC. Yet Sacred Fools Theater Company of Los Angeles has succeeded, and with style. Their Hamlet Shut Up, a part-mime, part-clown, completely silent version of the Bard's classic, is smart, witty, contemporary, and utterly accessible. And a whole lot of fun.
Director and creator Jonas Oppenheim hopes that his show will "be enjoyable and intelligible whether or not you speak English... and no mater how familiar you are with Hamlet." While at least a cursory understanding of the plot seems necessary to get the most out of the humor, he succeeds on both accounts. How does one show Hamlet's ever-shifting mental state without the benefit of soliloquy? How about a Revenge-o-Meter? Instructing the Players on their parts? Why not hold auditions (complete with warm-ups and headshots) and create a human photocopy machine for the scripts? And, of course, the famous "to be or not to be" speech screams for small winged puppets of the insect variety, although you'll never guess how it plays out. The show styles itself after silent movies, and is accompanied live by Josh Senick, who throws in a number of musical laughs for those paying attention. While some of the jokes get tired (what's with the recurring shark gag?), I was still chuckling by the end, which is a particular feat, given the breakneck pace that this show maintains.
The performers, however, are what really bring Hamlet Shut Up to life. Derek Mehn's Hamlet is the goofiest I've seen, and it is his extraordinary specificity and boundless energy that bring the role a new comic life. Tegan Ashton Cohan plays a (dare I say?) deliciously funny Ophelia, and her puppetry depicting Ophelia's death is one of the most charming moments in the show. Likewise, Stephen Simon as Claudius/Yorick handily switches between a comically tyrannical king and a charmingly Charlie Chaplin-like jester in a flashback scene that offers a calm and touching respite from the otherwise lovely madness of the show. Jay Bogdanowitsch's cell phone-obsessed Polonius is a hoot, and Kimberly Atkinson's drunken Gertrude makes for a delightful death scene. The rest of the company (Victor Isaac, Laura Napoli, Adina Valerio, Matt Valle, and Colin Willkie) offer excellent performances as well. It is truly an ensemble-based piece, enhanced by the dizzying array of Laura Napoli's whimsical props and Wesley Crain's outstandingly flexible costumes.
Hamlet Shut Up is a comic tour-de-force. With committed actors, incredible props and more gags than I can count, the show easily entertains Shakespeare aficionados and novices alike. You will have a ball. Now, shut up and go!