No Dane, No Gain

Few dramatic scholars would argue against the assertion that Hamlet remains one of the greatest plays ever written. Unlike such masterpieces as Home Alone and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Shakespeare's tragedy about the Prince of Denmark was not exactly crying out for a sequel. And few audiences, scholars or no, could sit through Fortinbras, which supposedly takes up where Hamlet left off, and not agree that this is one of the shabbiest plays ever written by a once cerebrally sound playwright. Lee Blessing, author of such emotionally involving and intricate works as A Walk In The Woods and Independence, penned the sophomoric satire just a couple of years ago. How a writer so honest and so accomplished could construct this ridiculous and pointless work literally boggles the mind.

To make Blessing appear even more damaged, the New River Repertory, which did a smashing job with Independence last year, imbues the new production with every bad habit of second-rate children's theater, cheesy sets, erratic lighting, ragged costumes, and actors who mug so much they may be subject to brain aneurysms on stage. Since The Fort Lauderdale Children's Theater co-produced the show, there well may be some method to this mad comparison.

As with all misguided plays, the plot defies description. The premise is absent. For simplicity's sake, I've outlined the bits I managed to decipher:

1. The play begins with Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, arriving after Hamlet's death.

2. Fortinbras, frequently overplayed by Michael Sellard, invents a new story of how everyone in the royal family was slain, this time blaming the various deaths on a Polish spy.

3. Horatio argues with him but Osric kisses his ass, and eventually agrees to impersonate the Polish spy.

4. The ghost of the previously garrulous Polonius shows up and says nothing.
5. The ghost of Ophelia shows up, cackles like a fish wife, and makes love to Fortinbras.

6. Giggling Polish girls show up and try to seduce Fortinbras.
7. Other ghosts appear and Denmark begins to conquer the world.
8. Finally, Hamlet, played like a hysterical Meat Loaf (that's the pop singer) by Leslie McMillian-Perez, comes back to life in a television set that talks to Fortinbras and the other ghosts, finally explodes and lets Hamlet loose.

9. Hamlet and Fortinbras become friends.
10. The palace guards make out with the Polish girls A who may be lesbians and never stop giggling.

I'm not sure anyone could direct this attempt at Shakespearean and political satire and make it palatable, but Carole Ries wasn't fit for the job. Wooden staging, with characters moving back and forth to cardboard room sets without a hint of purpose only adds to the confusion, and Ries never once holds any one of her actors back from gobbling the scenery. They don't only play the joke, they try to force it down your throat with an oil-soaked rag.

The dialogue increases the agony. Again, a sampling of lines should suffice:
1. "Yesterday happened to be dead flower day in Poland."
2. "Don't talk metaphysics with me, I've been sleeping with a dead woman."
3. "Ophelia's okay for a good time now and then."
4. "One can almost hear the way men sound."

And the most appropriate one of all: "It took you an awful long time to do a simple thing badly." Indeed, Mr. Blessing and New River Repertory, as your production clocked in at more than two-and-a-half agonizing hours, that was the truest line uttered all night.

It's a blessed event that Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, Gertrude, and Claudius, all died before meeting up with this Fortinbras . They never knew how rotten things could get in the state of Denmark.

Stage Notes
Because of last week's Best of Miami issue, some new openings missed regular reviewing space. As you still have a chance to see them, two deserve mention.

The first is Mill Fire by Sally Nemeth, presented with great skill by the ACME Acting Company. In fact, the honest and sensitive acting makes up for a superficial script and a first act that drags a bit due to excessive exposition. In 1970s Alabama several men lose their lives in an industrial accident, and their widows are left to deal with the grief and the financial repercussions. Nemeth tries to be dramaturgically sophisticated by using a chorus of three widows, … la the ancient Greek chorus, but it doesn't come off. What does work is Pamela Roza as the young widow Marlene, who finds no possible replacement for her loss and Peter Paul de Leo as her brother Bo, who survived Vietnam as well as the accident, and is left with mixed feelings of rage and guilt. Lisa M. Friedman adds an interesting comic touch as Bo's drunken wife Sonny, and Adam Koster as Marlene's husband Champ (seen in flashbacks), becomes suitably endearing. Eric B. Fliss's competent direction and Mike Martin's superb set help beef up the work even further, and by the end this slim play has gotten under your skin to a satisfying degree. For more information, see Calendar Listings.

The strangest show of the year award must go to the Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches' production of No Way to Treat a Lady , a musical written by Douglas J. Cohen, based on a novel and movie by William Goldman. Essentially a light melodic revue as if written by Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, this tale of a serial killer and the pathetic mama's boy detective who hunts him down presents scenes of blinding brilliance, followed by other scenes of senseless incompetence. As the ill-fated producers of the big flop Carrie -- a musical based on Stephen King's novel -- must know, horror and song don't easily blend. Then again, there's Sweeney Todd, the Stephen Sondheim musical about a murderous barber, which did play for almost 600 performances on Broadway. But even Sweeney's road tour was not successful; critics and audiences largely thought it an offensive bore. No Way To Treat A Lady doesn't offend, but it does bore on occasion, with one outstanding exception -- a stellar performance by James Judy as the nut case, singing exceptionally well and killing with chilling enthusiasm. As for the direction, music and rest of the players, nothing stands out as memorable, except for that overall odd feeling you get when combining the likes of Tales From The Crypt with Oklahoma. For more information, see Calendar Listings.


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