Mad Cat's The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show Is An Entertaining Mindscrew

What makes Mad Cat Theatre's productions stand out -- aside from the tripping balls quality each play brings to the table -- is the way their productions are a commentary on social mores, art, history and politics, without being specific on what the commentary actually is. Their plays are harrowingly ambiguous, packed with musical references and historical lessons, humor and intellectualism, all while being wildly entertaining.

In their latest play, The Hamlet Dog And Pony Show, which opened this weekend at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, Mad Cat throws the proverbial kitchen sink at its audience.

The play, co-written by Paul Tei and Jessica Farr, is a cavernous and dense take on William Shakespeare's Hamlet mixed with Heiner Muller's post-modernistic 1977 play The Hamletmachine, and blended into a nihilistic cocktail of surrealism and speculative drama. It's a 21st century deconstruction of the classic tale, and while it oftentimes teetered under its own ambitious weight, the play managed to entertain, enlighten, and even confuse -- which is exactly what Tei and Farr set out to do.

In Dog and Pony Show, the Dutch castle Elsinore is now the White House. Hamlet (Troy Davidson) is a hip, bearded intellectual. Claudius (Ken Clement) is a conservative President of the United States, and Polonius is a mustachioed puppet with a Cuban accent, manipulated and voiced by Claudius. Ophelia (Emilie Paap), with her flashy pink hair, looks like she just jumped off the screen from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. All the while, a female version of Heiner Muller (Farr) struts about on and off stage in a Cabaret costume, directing Hamlet's moves and becoming the voice of the play through lyrical soliloquies spoken in a thick German accent.

It's a hodgepodge of musical numbers -- like when Gertrude (Carey Brianna Hart) sings Badfinger's "I Can't Live If Living Is Without You" -- and modern settings, like Hamlet texting his love letter to Ophelia, and references to Occupy D.C. (where King Hamlet was murdered). Claudius's scheming courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Erik Fabregat and Ralph de la Portilla) spy on Hamlet via a Skype hookup, one of the many clever effects Dog And Pony Show utilizes throughout the production. Even most of the Bard's lines are reshaped with a modern twist, such as when Hamlet cries out to Gertrude, "What a world we live in where a dead spouse is as replaceable as a viral video!"

The use of fog machines, a live band, and actor James Samuel Randolph's voice as the disembodied spirit of King Hamlet was stylish and cool. Sean McClelland's simple nightmare carnival set design against Lighthouse's black walls made for a fantastical ambiance.

All in all, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is a layered psychedelic mindscrew. And while it could be heavy handed at times with its themes and desire to treat Hamlet with disdain, it still made for a hilarious and circus-like production.

Look for our extended review in this week's issue

Mad Cat's The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse (404 NW 26th St.) runs through August 12. Tickets cost $30 ($15 students). Call1-866-811-4111, or visit madcattheatre.org

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