Friday, August 5th, 2005

Hamlet's saga gets tabloid treatment
by ALEC CLAYTON, Tacoma News-Tribune

Something is rotten in Denmark, and we learn from “The Elsinore Diaries” that it has something to do with mice and cheese.

Presented by Harlequin Productions in association with One Lump or Two, “The Elsinore Diaries” is a comedy presented as a tabloid TV exposé that purports to tell the true story of Hamlet. It was written by Seattle playwrights Daniel Flint, Frank Lawler and Jason Marr and saw its first public performance at the 2003 Seattle Fringe Festival, where it won the “Sold Out Performance” award.

For the festival, the script had to be whittled down to 60 minutes, resulting, according to director Scot Whitney, in “a bare, bleached bones” script that had to be performed “at breakneck speed.”

“With this production, the writers have had the opportunity to put some flesh back on the bones. They’ve also allowed me a pretty free hand to rethink the presentation of the piece,” Whitney said.

It’s a madcap comedy with more than 70 short scenes, numerous moving set pieces and quick costume changes. Complicating matters, actor Russ Holm crushed two vertebrae a few weeks before opening night. Now instead of eight actors playing 22 characters, all of the roles have to be played by seven actors who cumulatively have 40 quick changes. Writer Frank Lawler gave up one of his roles and took over all of Holm’s.

I previewed a rehearsal a week before opening night.

The play starts with television network EDTV’s newscast of the death of King Hamlet as narrated by The Historian (Lawler), then switches to a scene with a gravedigger wearing a modern-day trench coat (played by Kevin Hyatt who also plays Rosencrantz, the Pirate King and Marcellus). The gravedigger informs us that it is “a fat time for the military funerary complex,” a clear indication this is not going to be an ordinary play.

The tale of Hamlet is retold with a comical blending of Shakespeare’s script and modern madcap rantings. Costumes, sets and dialogue mix Elizabethan and contemporary styles. Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” speech is spoken as Shakespeare wrote it, but rather than an interior monologue, it is Prince Hamlet’s attempt at writing a love poem to Ophelia. Horatio brings a podium out on stage and addresses the audience as if he is in an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting: “Hi, my name is Horatio, and I am an alcoholic.” And when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern counsel Hamlet, they put on white lab coats and consult with one another in modern psychobabble, concluding that the best treatment for Hamlet is dance therapy.

While all of this madness is going on, video projections are played behind the actors, with scenes that parallel the action in strangely twisted ways. The videos include logos from EDTV, tabloid-style headlines such as “Claudius Crowned, Hamlet Hosed,” clips from silent movies and even a scene with a swashbuckling Danny Kaye in a sword fight.

Casey D. Brown was fantastic as Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras. His broad gestures, especially his hand gestures, were perfect, and I loved his Frankenstein-monster lurch in his broad-shouldered costume.

Daniel E. Flint was outstanding as Polonius, Horatio and Bernardo, displaying a nice range of voice and style. Regular patrons of Harlequin’s plays will remember both Brown and Flint for their outstanding performances in last year’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

Also outstanding was Sarah Lesley as Ophelia. She played the love scenes, first with Laertes and then with Hamlet, with broad slaptick that nearly reached beyond a PG rating.

“The Elsinore Diaries” is intelligently and farcically acted. People not familiar with “Hamlet” will miss some of the wittier barbs but should still be able to enjoy the humor.

Alec Clayton: alec@alecclayton.com

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 14

WHERE: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

TICKETS: $14 general, $12 seniors and students

INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.harlequinproductions.org