An Uneasy Pairing . . .
Hamlet vs. Zombies
KC Fringe Festival
I am a great fan of both Shakespeare's plays and zombie films, so I was intrigued by the fare offered at the Fringe by The Skinny Improv/Springfield Shakespeare project. However, in the end I was disappointed—not so much by the acting, but by the play itself. Drawing upon the recent popularity of the historical/literary mash-up trend that has become fashionable in such books as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" (none of which, I confess, have I read), this play is really too short on Shakespeare—both in plot and language—to really make the grade.
Written by Jeff Jenkins and Bryant Turnage, who also appear as Horatio and Claudius in the production, the play starts off pretty true to its original when the zombie of Hamlet's father shows up. We find out that Claudius is actually a mad scientist who has created a serum that can turn people into zombies, and Hamlet's father was his first test case. This is not really a spoiler, by the way, since it is revealed very early on in the play. But soon thereafter, this revisionist production starts to break down and simply goes too far afield from the original in plot, language, and interpretation. I was left feeling that I just wanted more, or more done with what was offered.
What was enjoyable, and what could have made this play better? The production uses modernized costumes, so it is an up-to-date Hamlet that we are given, and the language is largely contemporary as well, aside from a few lines here and there taken from Shakespeare's original script. When Shakespeare's original lines are incorporated into the play, they are delivered with finesse by the actors. But I was a little disappointed in the fact that it is not really necessary at all to be familiar with the original play to comprehend this one. This might be viewed as a plus, but since I assumed that this play is supposed to be a send up of the original, I was left a little concerned that the folks in the audience who had not read or seen Shakespeare's version would get an entirely incorrect impression of his plot. And, really, it is just not that funny. The two lines that got the most laughs were "Something's rotting in the state of Denmark" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are unde!
ad," which are, I admit, quite clever.
I am by no means opposed to playing around with Shakespeare, but the play begins to unravel and departs too much from the original very early on. Ophelia, who becomes a gun-toting female Rambo-like character, remains alive until the last scene. The same goes for Polonius. To my sensibilities, they could have died and returned as zombies just as easily earlier in the play, which would have been true to the original. I found the set design excellent, and it is quite apparent that the playwrights are quite familiar with zombie films, since they incorporate references to many of the great ones—classic and more recent—throughout the play. But it just didn't work for me. I wanted more Shakespeare and a little less of the gratuitous stumbling, groaning and shooting onstage.