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Atlas Performing Arts Center
Remaining Performances: (tickets available here)
Wednesday, July 15 at 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 18 at 6:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 19 at 2:30 p.m.
They Say: A zany spin on the English language’s greatest drama, complete with stoners, a sexually frustrated housewife and one very well-endowed French American. This isn’t your mother’s Hamlet. Seriously, do not bring your mother with you. It’ll get awkward.
Anne Larimer’s Take: If we strip Hamlet of its crowns and its politics, its skulls and swords, what are left with? Existential angst, unrequited love, quest for happiness, bouts of depression—themes that work just as well in late 20th century Ontario as they do in a far-off Danish court. Taking on what is generally considered to be the greatest play in the English language, the New York-based Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective has created a fresh, thoughtful and downright dirty meditation on some of life’s central questions.
The six-actor ensemble—all of whom are members of Actors’ Equity—grounds a piece of work that flits non-sequentially from Lathem’s birth in 1975 to 2005, when our characters fail to escape their Shakespearian tragic end. Our sweet prince, Jordan Kaplan—also Associate Artistic Director of Hunger and Thirst—carries off the challenging role with nuanced and honest humanity. Lathem is a victim of parents who should never have procreated together. Gertie (Regina Gibson), Lathem’s sex-obsessed mother who receives an endless stream of dick-pics after posing naked for a Hustler-like magazine, makes Queen Gertrude look like Little Women’s Marmee (the quintessential maternal angel of perfection). Her neglected and neglectful husband William (Michael Hardart) fawns about the house in a fog, offering synesthetic observations of how his feelings smell.
Playwright Ashlin Halfnight employs William to deliver many of the headier lines. A life-long depressive, William counters his son’s musing that he might actually find enlightenment in his archeological career by shooting down the idea that happiness is actually possible in life. It is only after death—by murder or suicide it is unclear—that William finds peace, binge-watching Seventh Heaven and stuffing himself on paradise’s breakfast buffet (which, outrageously, does NOT offer an omelet station), as he describes to a high-out-of-his-mind Lathem. Director Hondo Weiss-Richmond has Hardart haunt the stage throughout the play, casting a melancholy that counters the lewdly comedic ongoings of Gertie and her lead suitor Claude (Eric Emil Oleson)—a pornographer from Detroit (or “Day-twah,” as pronounced in his French-American accent)—who sports a bright-red, two-foot erect penis in most of his scenes.
Of course, the obsessive nut doesn’t fall far from the tree, and rather than taking solace in his father’s visit from the grave, Lathem is set on a tragic spiral of madness, suspicion and revenge, leaving bodies in his wake, including that of poor Ophelia—er, Lia. Patricia Lynn – Artistic Director of Hunger and Thirst and costumer designer of Lathem Prince—is enchanting as Lia, oscillating between mania and charm that makes you forgive Lathem for being at once repelled and enthralled by her. Christopher Bonewitz plays Lia’s brother Patio (an amalgamation of Horatio and Laertes), a stoner gravedigger spouting reason that everyone else is simply too out of their minds to hear. Bonewitz brings a touching wisdom and gravitas to a character that in lesser hands could have been played for simple stoner laughs, and he brings home the play beautifully, landing on the message that no matter the era or the setting, being alive is terrible and wonderful, and while the end is inevitable, so is the beginning.
See it if: Dildos won’t scare you off from excellent acting and a script that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
Skip it if: Your mom wants to dip her toe into the Fringe pool. They aren’t kidding that this is not a play you want to see with your mom—unless she, like Gertie, is a wannabe porn star with slightly incestuous tendencies.