Shakespeare: the 'Good Bits' version
KC Fringe Festival
From Chicago comes the Suitcase Shakespeare Company, a group that creates condensed versions of the Bard for presentation in schools, libraries, and festivals like this. Excising various secondary characters and subplots, a five-person troupe can bring in Hamlet in just under an hour.
Well, right away I click into Snob Mode. Abridge the Bard? Tamper with a 400-year-old work of genius!? Horrid! Unacceptable! Obscene! How dare they touch one comma, one jot, of a work that shall outlive us all? I want my Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Dammit!
But of course, this isn't for me, is it? The company have the stated purpose of reaching out to people who are intimidated by the Shakespeare canon, or just disinterested because it's old and they talk weird. After some years cutting their teeth in the Renaissance festival circuit, they have been performing meticulously adapted versions of the classics using masks, dance, music, and stage combat. The troupe joining us this week is a small one, but capable, with very little in the way of props and role-doubling not uncommon. This is truly Shakespeare on the go.
The story, at least, is familiar: we open on the funeral of Hamlet's father, the King. As Hamlet mourns, his uncle Polonius woos, then weds his mother Gertrude, succeeding to the throne. Hamlet, bitter at the speed with which his father has been replaced by his uncle, encounters the ghost of his father, who tells him it was Polonius who killed him in the first place. What follows is the classic tale of madness, revenge and death, moving briskly from point to point as it escorts us through the highlights of the storyline. There were bits that I must confess I missed, but the story itself is left intact so that most anyone should be able to follow the action.
The troupe (I am afraid the names of the individual cast members were not provided) are capable, if occasionally uneven. The Hamlet is one of the stronger performers, as indeed he must be. This version definitely belongs in the "Mad Hamlet" school, with the character staggering, clutching his head, bursting into peals of inappropriate laughter. At times it is frankly unnerving, but of course that is rather the point.
The Suitcase Shakespeare group are this week presenting at the Just Off-Broadway theatre. The audience at the 10:30 performance last night was disappointing, which I suspect was at least partially due to the lateness of the hour, and to the theatre being somewhat difficult to find (hint: get to 31st and Broadway, and follow the signs).
Is it everyone's Shakespeare? No, but the play just might be the thing that catches the attention of the Shakespeare novice, or shows a jaded youngster just what the big deal is, anyhow. This is Hamlet trimmed to the bone: fat-free, and snack-sized. If you've never seen the story performed before, give these guys a shot. Call it a cultural gateway drug. In the words of mothers everywhere: try it, you'll like it. It's good for ya.