September 23, 2015

This "Hamlet in Bed" Has Identity Issues

Many critics seem to be regarding Hamlet in Bed, the overwrought new play that opened last week at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, as a kind of audition for some other production they'd rather see than this one. 

The two-hander, written by Michael Laurence, stars Laurence as an actor, self-referentially named Michael, who is obsessed with Shakespeare’s most famous character; and Annette O’Toole as a boozy has-been actress, coyly called Anna, he persuades to play the prince's mother Gertrude. Further complicating the meta-ish plot is the fact that "Michael" secretly believes "Anna" to be his real-life mother who gave him up for adoption at birth.

It's not a bad premise. And although Laurence is a bit old for the role of the college-aged prince, he has the lean and intense mien that could make for a convincing Hamlet. Meanwhile O'Toole, who at 62 has a sultry voice and a taut figure that rocks the skintight pants she wears, would be perfect for a Gertrude who blurs the line between the maternal and the carnal.

Hamlet in Bed also offers theatricality to the max as the characters use handheld mikes to deliver soliloquies that fill us in on their backstories and inner motivations, wrangle over the nature of their relationship during heated encounters (including on the titular bed) and perform speeches from the famous closet scene in which Hamlet confronts his mother about her remarriage so soon after the death of his father.

But Laurence, who fesses up to having some Hamlet issues of his own (click here to read about them) takes such a heavy handed approach to all of it that, abetted by Lisa Peterson's gloomy direction, the pleasure of making the connections between his play and Shakespeare's quickly evaporates.

So I'm with the critics on this one: the show might have been better if it had gone old school, without the bed.

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