Faction of Fools Hamlecchino, Clown Prince of DenmarkBy Genie Baskir • May 2nd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Faction of Fools
Gallaudet University-Elstad Auditorium, Washington DC
Through May 19th
2:20 with intermission
Reviewed April 28th, 2012
Breathless Reader, Indulge please, a hapless reviewer. Have you ever read Wit? This is a play about an overly critical, demanding and nasty female English Lit. professor who is being done in by her chaste treasure. Something is really rotten in that state. As she lay dying…for hours… she recalls the apocryphal moment driving the anger of her stupid life. She was downgraded by her professor for faulty argumentation over comma placement in some Shakespearean tragedy and she has never, in all of the intervening years, recovered from that humiliation. Your malingering reviewer has only read this play. However, if she is to subject herself to actually seeing this cringe inducing work performed, it would have to be presented by Faction of Fools. This irreverent little band of merry mechanicals just won the Helen Hayes 2012 John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre. For us lowbrows…that means that these little rascals are the best new thing seen by the establishment this past year.
Your reviewer left the theatre in a twist. I really did….as I was retiring for the night I realized that my drawers were on backwards. Having rectified that situation I was still twisted. What disquiet doth plague the ardor of a fishwife who be defeated by any subject not teaching biologics, rock and roll and the other thing? Her sweet slumber broken by her agitation over a word….one word, she awakes…Lydian measures in her head. She cavorts around her Hoarders bed chamber clinging to the love of her life…all five pounds of him. He shlurps her fine lined, aging Baby Boomer’s face as she bombinates Scott Joplin tunes…but soft….the word! SYNCOPATION.
Our genuinely gifted faction of lovely fools have rearranged the Bard. Having established the inferior intellect of your brainless reviewer, you reader, have to trust in her promise that pretty much every word uttered by our Faction of Fools was authentic Shakespeare arranged and recited in syncopated meter thereby transforming tragedy into comedy without changing anything. Think Duke Ellington’s arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite as opposed to Igor Stravinsky’s arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner.
At first glance, the set (Set Designer Ethan Sinnott) is some eerie concept derived from a Fritz Lang film. The lighting (Lighting Designer Andrew F. Griffin) supports that initial impression until the music (Composer and Adapter Jerry Terrill) starts and the dissonance develops. Elsinore is not reconfigured as German silent film Expressionism but as the sinking Titanic fatally listing in the ocean minutes before the lights go out forever. Music from that Gilded Age plays and amid the splendid and classic popular music play the catchy and addicting Scott Joplin Rag Time compositions….the punch line to the joke that turns Hamlet into Hamlecchino. The costumes (Denise Umland) are Rag Time and Gilded Age creations reminiscent of …well…the Titanic and its various social classes occupying that maritime social tragedy that leaves as many dead in real life as in Hamlet in drama. Everyone dies in Hamlecchino but then they all get up and the audience laughs and applauds.
The characters are all cleverly masked (Mask Designer Aaron Cromie) in the style of the company’s Commedia dell’Arte approach to theatre. The syncopated meter of the verse is supported by choreography and movement (Director and Choreographer Matthew R. Wilson) that belie the tragedy of fratricide (Claudius played by Billy Finn) and usurpation of throne and a fatherless son’s (Matthew R. Wilson) attempts at revenge as he tortures himself over a beloved, but unfaithful floozy of a mother (Eva Wilhelm); never mind the wacky girlfriend (Emma Crane Jaster). T’is why we laugh and we plotz. Though Hamlet, himself is still a downer.
The acting is superb. These are exacting performers who move and mime and sign (American Sign Language) with impeccable physicality and timing. The venue being Gallaudet University, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are deaf.” The Player (David Gaines) is a rubbery mechanical enacting comic movement in silence and telling an incriminating story of murder in order to avenge the restless soul of a murdered King (David Gaines in a Pierrot costume and chef’s toque). Polonius (Toby Mulford costumed as the Gate Keeper of the Emerald City of Oz) serves up wise counsel to poor, tormented Hamlecchino. Polonius’ tragic demise is, fortunately for us, a barrel of laughs.
Ophelia’s (Emma Crane Jaster) suicide by drowning is the most lovely and lyrical element of the show. We should all die this way; it was so pretty. Jaster’s suppleness of muscle and flexibility of skeleton gave credence to Ophelia’s fragility of psyche. Yet she was as funny as anyone there as she insanely pranced around the stage in a straitjacket. And she can sing too.
The ensemble of Danish and Norwegian soldiers were dressed as World War I trench warriors in gas masks with bayonets still attached to contemporaneous rifles. Swordplay was cunningly and comically choreographed (Matthew R. Wilson) with inspiration from the Greco Brothers and The Three Stooges.
And finally, Horatio, Hamlet’s faithful man and valet. When a girl (Rachel Spicknall) plays Horatio the same dialog takes on a whole new meaning and our poor Horatio suffers the unrequited crush of Hamlecchino.
Hamlecchino is more than appropriate for younger students; it is required. Faction of Fools questions sophistry while venerating Shakespeare even as they serve him up medium rare. Consider this review another recommendation from your girl around town.
A note to my readers: At the end of the reviewed performance, our talented actors and crew had a collection for an organization called Taking Care of…something or other….twisty drawers, remember?….a fund raising organization incorporated to help struggling theatre companies in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. I gave a token contribution. I hope that anyone hearing such an entreaty toss some coin or maybe a ducat or two into the yellow bucket to keep our collective stages glowing with light and music and characters.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, like all classical tragedies, concerns the lives of great men and women-people better than the rest of us. But what if they weren’t? What if they were families like ours? Worse than ours even? What if they were grotesques from Commedia del’Arte?
In fact, Shakespeare’s Hamlet borrows several gags from the Italian Commedia: a know-it-all advisor, plots in which conniving men hide behind arrases to spy on the affairs of others, and a “mad” routine in which the lead actress has a pretext for showing off her skills of singing, dancing and bawdry that would otherwise be out of character.
Hamlet, nevertheless, is mostly inspired by a genre known as “Revenge Tragedy,” in which a wronged hero launches a vendetta that ends with a pile of corpses. Shakespeare’s unlikely Revenger, however, laments rather than relishes his role. Hamlet’s revenge is complicated by philosophical doubts concerning the nature of evidence, fears about harming the innocent, grief that literally “haunts” him, and existential musings on mortality. Hamlet knows that real-life revenge is not as simple as what we see in plays….
For the unlikely Revenger of Hamlet, we have found inspiration in the zany Commedia dell’Arte character named “Arlecchino” (pronounced AR-lu-Kee-no), a low status servant whose simplemindedness makes him the butt of most jokes. But, through wiles and happy accidents, he finds himself vindicated in the end, Our “Hamlet-chino” is miscast as a Revenger. He ends up stuck in a role that does not suit him. He does not know whom to trust, how to proceed, or what the point of it all is. O, cursed spite, that ever he was born to set things right!
Hamlecchino knows that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. But many things are funny, too. Part of Shakespeare’s poignancy-be it poetic or philosophical or tragic- is that he retains a sense of humor. Sometimes you have to laugh, or you’ll cry. Revenge….is a dish best served comically!
Matthew R. Wilson, Founding Artistic Director
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
- Hamlet: Matthew R. Wilson
- Claudius: Billy Finn
- Gertrude: Eva Wilhelm
- Laertes/ Francisco: John V. Bellomo
- Guildenstern/Norwegian Captain/Dane: Marianna Devenow
- Ghost/Player/Gravedigger 1/Norwegian: David Gaines
- Rosencrantz/Fortinbras/Dane: Amelia Hensley
- Ophelia/Bernardo/Norwegian: Emma Crane Jaster
- Polonius/Gravedigger 2/Norwegian: Toby Mulford
- Marcellus/Osric/Priest: Justin Purvis
- Horatio: Rachel Spicknall
- Director & Choreographer: Matthew R. Wilson
- Assistant Director: Toby Mulford
- Set Designer: Ethan Sinnott
- Lighting Designer: Andrew F. Griffin
- Costume Designer: Denise Umland
- Properties Designer: Sarah Conte
- Sound Designer: Mehdi Raoufi
- Composer: Jesse Terrill
- Mask Designer: Aaron Cromie
- Production Stage Manager: Elizabeth Stone
- Assistant Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley
Disclaimer: Faction of Fools provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7960.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.