Red Theater presents the Chicago premiere of RED HAMLET. His dad is dead. His mom is his aunt. His girlfriend is pregnant. Life is making Hamlet crazy. It doesn’t help when his dad’s ghost guilts him in to a murder investigation. Meanwhile, Fortinbras keeps popping up to avenge his own father’s death. And Rosencrantz and Guildenstern just want to party. What is Hamlet to do? Or maybe a better question what is RED HAMLET to do? RED HAMLET attempts to merge vaudeville, dance, poetry, and a classic tragedy.
When it works, the fusion is poignant. In the ‘this is how it feels‘ scene, the stage is filled with the entire cast individually and continually acting out an emotion and action while saying the words ‘this is how it feels.’ Claudius crowns and recrowns himself. Gertrude keeps drinking her wine. Ophelia is being raped. This imaginative visual is a performance art masterpiece. I see at once everyone’s driving force. Adapter and director Aaron Sawyer nails the whole classic in this 5 minute segment. Powerful!
When it doesn’t work, the mesh is messy. Sawyer ambitiously inserts gags, but the pranks don’t get the guffaw response intended. The vaudevillian waters down the art for lampoon. The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shtick is flat and clunky. When it’s trying too hard to be funny, RED HAMLET is not. Sawyer chooses to make Hamlet a cane carrying clown. Under the skillful performance of Gage Wallace, this choice works. Wallace loses it with shocking and wacky reactions. He’s not forcing the comedy but he is recognizing and embracing the lunacy. Wallace’s scenes with Meredith Ernst (Ophelia) are beautifully bittersweet. Although a haunting Ernst is not safe from Wallace’s zany outbursts, their bond is this simple understanding and acceptance of each other.
RED HAMLET has a lot to say. When the poetic content is riddled in between comedy bits, the true message is hard to decipher.
Running Time: Ninety-five minutes with no intermission
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Aaron Sawyer
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru April 21st
Buy Tickets at www.stage773.com
Photography by Julie E. Ballard