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Bad Hamlet The Bodega – at The Trading Post 1013 7th St. NW
Remaining Performances: Friday, July 17 at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at 7 p.m.
They say: “Two Be Or Not Two Be! Hamlet was published twice: a 1604 bootleg ‘Bad’ edition and the familiar 1623 version. BAD HAMLET is an hour-long mashup of the two texts, where the various differences illuminate and deepen Shakespeare’s masterpiece.”
Trey’s take: OK, look: I’m a giant text geek. When it comes to straight plays — especially serious, ambitious, landmark plays — I’m almost always about the words and the ideas as much as the staging and the acting. (Sorry, Mr. Keach.) So while your mileage may vary, John Geoffrion’s … what do we call this, a collation? … struck me as a Fringe must-see from the start.
The good news is that while Bad Hamlet might have been just an interesting exercise in dramaturgy — honestly, I wondered if it would come off like a staged reading of a Word document, with Track Changes set to the “On” position — it turns out to be a pretty slick little one-hour’s traffic. (Yes, I said one hour — it’s two versions of a four-hour play, but Geoffrion has cut the crap out of it, and it moves briskly.) Sometimes the twice-told tale is about overlapping dialogue, which can be a touch disorienting; elsewhere, the Dane you know will start a speech, only to hand it off to the Dane you don’t, whose version will stand out sharply in contrast to the version you’ll hear in your head.
It helps that Sarah Denhardt’s staging uses tried-and-true tricks to help you keep track of Regular Hamlet (tall, mopey) and Bad Hamlet (compact, with a swagger), not to mention their twinned Gertrudes, Ophelias, Claudii and Laerteses. Costumes, props, blocking: They all work to bring clarity to the comparison. (My favorite fillip: In that famous climactic fencing match, the first-draft versions of Our Melancholy Hero and His Hotheaded Foe do battle with sturdy medieval swords. Simultaneously, the Hamlet you’re more familiar with uses a slenderer, more elegant rapier to prove his mettle against his similarly armed Laertes.)
That’s a nice shorthand for the differences between the two texts: That earlier draft is blunter, swifter, more urgent, while the one Shakespeare spent more time on makes its points with rather more grace. (Oh, how much more poetry, how much more self-loathing there is in Take 2 of Claudius confession!) You knew that, of course, if you’ve ever read up on the subject, but it’s tremendous fun to see what Geoffrion & Co. make out of the juxtaposition: “To be or not to be” plays like a Socratic dialogue between a passably articulate jock and his more bookish older brother, and if you’ve ever ground your teeth over whether Gertrude buys that “Dad’s ghost says Uncle C. did him in” speech, you’ll be happy about how explicitly she signs on for Hamlet’s revenge plot in the bad-quarto version of the closet scene. Bottom line? The notion that all the best writing is re-writing gets an admirably lucid, singularly entertaining proof here.
See it if: You’ve ever laughed out loud at the words “No, nor woman neither.”
Skip it if: Blank verse leaves you feeling bilious.