“They have been at a great feast of languages, and stol’n the scraps.”
(Love’s Labor’s Lost)
“Let’s Fuck Around With Hamlet” is the title of a show—withdrawn before the Fringe Festival began—that describes the subject of this piece. Nine shows (what did I miss?) in Fringe16 wanted to fuck around, not only with Hamlet, but also with Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King John, and Taming of the Shrew. But Hamlet provides the dominant challenge and that seems to feed the playwrights’ need to assert themselves over the mighty icon. Of course it was probably Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that began all this by moving those two minor characters to center stage. And Something Rotten, the hit Broadway musical, having been nominated for ten Tonys, proved you can make a bundle from said fucking around. And I had my own experience of ‘fucking around with Hamlet’ (or, more accurately, being fucked around by Hamlet) when traveling in Denmark this summer: I went to Elsinore Castle to find Hamlet, and found Iron Man instead (philly.com/philly/living/travel/20160828).
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II).
Here’s a roundup of both the madness and method in this year’s Shakespeare-happy, Shakespeare-crazy Fringe. The female characters, especially, seem to have taken a beating (theorize at will):
Like the heroine of the witty novel, Lost in Austen, a woman—note that she is named Jane—has her already troubled life upset by a literary character who appears inexplicably in her bathtub. Here it’s pitiable, innocent Ophelia splashing around, not yet drowned but annoying as hell. [The Iron Factory 118 Fontain Street, 3rd floor] September 10–13, 2016; fringearts.com/drowning-ophelia. Review.
In this tour of a decrepit mental institution we meet Desdemona (angry), Ophelia (bi-polar), Lady Macbeth (obsessed), and Rosalind and Viola (gender dysphoric). The issue is whether they are insane or the victims of patriarchal tyranny: “gender is a social construct.” Or both, causally. [St John the Baptist Church, 146 Rector St] September 9-17, 2016; fringearts.com/bedlam-shakespeare. Review.
The subtitle, “Like Hamlet, Only Scrambled” is key here. A family-friendly, multi-lingual show takes the tragedy and makes it funny, proving once again that if you want to make an omelet…. [Liberty Lands Park, 926 N American Street] September 15-24, 2016; fringearts.com/omeletto-like-hamlet-scrambled. Review.
Elementary Spacetime Show (University of the Arts)
Hamlet makes a cameo appearance, a contemporary ‘translation’ of the most famous soliloquy. This existential cabaret is about a suicidal teenage girl who is trying to decide if she wants “to be or not to be.” [The Arts Bank at The University of the Arts, 601 South Broad Street] September 10-24, 2016; fringearts.com/elementary-spacetime-show. Review.
And lest Hamlet hog the stage:
The “bar” being not a legal term but West Philly’s City Tap. Fellow Phindie critic Joshua Milhouse described the show thusly: “With the difficulty of a Shakespearean text and such a short rehearsal process, line-calling is inevitable. Therefore, when an actor calls for line, the audience must drink. Imbibing is also compulsory for puns on Kate’s name, sex in general, the word “tail.” [City Tap House, 3925 Walnut Street] September 11, 2016; fringearts.com/shakespearebar. Review.
The Bard’s rarely performed (little need to wonder why) history play is about the struggle for the throne of England (yet again) is Revolution Shakespeare’s post-apocalyptic take on the dark ages, as if the dim past and the dim future are obviously similar. This often-shouted al fresco production took place in Hawthorne Park, and the costumes ranged from thrift store to biker to goth. [Hawthorne Park, 12th and Catherine streets] September 21-October 1, 2016; fringearts.com/king-john. Review.
Julius Caesar. Spared Parts (Romeo Castellucci)
“As he was valiant, I honor him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.” (Julius Caesar, III, ii). Romeo Castellucci nearly slays the play. The most peculiar of the Fringe’s Shakespeare, the famous Italian director’s production is riveting, visually stunning and completely unnerving. It features fragments of two of the play’s monologues, one delivered in Italian by an actor who inserts an endoscope so that we see, projected, the internal workings of his glottis and vocal cords as he speaks, followed by a (literally) windy old Caesar who can no longer speak, feebly chastising the Roman populace, and, finally, a Mark Antony whose laryngectomy makes any speech in any language, nearly impossible; a magnificent black stallion defecates onstage. As Castellucci’s previous Fringe production, the heart-wrenching On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God also revealed, this is a director obsessed with the failing human body. [The Navy Yard, Building 694, 1701 Langley Avenue] September 22-24, 2016; fringearts.com/julius-caesar-spared-parts. Review.
MACBETH (Third World Bunfight)
The rumble in the jungle: Verdi meets Shakespeare in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the results are thrilling: vocally, visually and theatrically . Add to that the enormity of the political horrorshow in Congo which the power-mad violence of Macbeth perfectly conveys. Deeply moving, outrageously funny and—no other way to say it—important. [Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street] September 23-25, 2016; fringearts.com/macbeth. Review.
And this just in:
In celebration of 50 years of Star Trek, the famed Folger Shakespeare Library has announced owning a copy of Hamlet in “the original Klingon,” a reference to the popular line in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in which Gorkon tells Captain Kirk that “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” (Note that “the undiscovered country” is from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy.) How did Fringe 2016 miss this opportunity to stage a Hamlet in the original Klingon?