CatchyName Theatre Company's production of Evil Hamlet seems provocative if you read their promos.
“Every man wants to be king and every woman queen of Denmark.”
“…each…relentlessly pursues their own interest.”
“Dramatic shock treatment handled elegantly.”
“…a barebones exposé of hedonism.”
And so I went...
The only promo that proves honest and fair is CatchyName’s statement that this is “Hamlet like you’ve never seen before.”
The first word that comes to mind is “offensive.” Charlotte Brockman plays Gertrude dressed as The Nanny while snorting coke every five minutes in between eye rolls, lighting cigarettes, and sequined bolero changes. Vonn Scott Bair doubles as an impotent Claudius and a poor man’s Phantom of the Opera Ghost, using the same voice my father did at Guilford Lake in the summertime when he told us silly ghost stories around the campfire. Leer Relleum wears a bad blond wig and bartends when he’s not acting like he’s acting like someone who has nothing to do with his character, Polonius. The trustworthy scholar Horatio, here destroyed by Larry Rekow, is never out of joints, and wears a golden pot leaf necklace to accompany his habit. This is, of course, when he’s not offering Gertrude more coke or smacking Ophelia on the rear end. Rekow, with an imposed Brooklyn accent—this production is supposedly set in a 1965 Brooklyn bar—apparently impregnated Ophelia, but one wouldn’t know this if one hadn’t read the odd notes of script editor, producer, and CatchyName Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jim Strope. This would likely explain why the physically stunning yet acting nightmare Alexia Lodde breaks onto the stage in her mad scene covered in blood. She either miscarried and placed the fetus in the brown paper bag she is holding, or perhaps she aborted the child herself. Not sure which one makes more sense. Alex Plant is no help as her brother, Laertes, as he comes onto the scene in Vietnamish fatigues cradling a bottle of Cuervo, acting as though he is acting drunk, only later to return seemingly “shell shocked,” as his “method acting” (I use this term loosely) leads him to obsessively and compulsively whisper under his breath for the rest of the evening.
And what of Hamlet? I refuse to acknowledge there was actually a Hamlet in this play that lacks any sort of nobility. There is a guy names Matt Ingles who mouths his speeches and splits ears, but he is no Hamlet. Hamlet wouldn’t show the audience Playboy centerfolds, nor would he sniff Ophelia’s dirty thong center stage in a Frank Booth moment (I nearly walked out). Hamlet wouldn’t refuse to ever look at the audience. Hamlet wouldn’t dare say the word “cunt” on stage. No, this is not Hamlet, either character or play.
The only thing I can come up with is that I was tricked into this evil experience—a joke of sorts. The promos are certainly not honest. Irving Schulman claims the role of director as well as the Gravedigger. He digs his own grave twice, first by burying the Gravedigger’s lines under his incomprehensible mumbles—eyes closed, and next, by directing such an atrocity. Schulman apparently came to San Francisco to do stand up comedy. I do not find him funny—at all.
Set design is minimal. A bar on which Gertrude does much snorting. A small table with chairs, on which Gertrude does much snorting. A garbage can and some boxes. A body bag at one point. A shovel and a skull-like thing. I have no problem with the minimalist approach, but a cardinal sin in theatre is killing the lights, blaring some music, and rustling around the stage for two, three, four minutes in order to move a can or stand on point. Every scene change leaves the audience in the dark for minutes at a time. This production lacks direction, lacks actors who can act, and lacks anything that resembles cohesion.
The only entertaining part of my evening was during intermission, when I leaned over to one of the ten people in the audience to inquire about her theatre companion.
I say, “Excuse me, I notice you have a stuffed frog with you. Is that your journalistic good luck charm?” (She is a fellow journalist.)
“He enjoys the theatre,” she states with a serious look on her face, patting her frog on the head and adjusting his stance so that he may better observe the stage.
I faced forward again and stared at the floor for a moment, considering her answer. I turned again toward the girl and her beanie frog, who had his own seat, mind you, and I asked,
“Does your frog have a name?”
“Sigmund,” she stated matter-of-factly, returning her pen back to the oral position before looking down at her notepad.
I was left with nothing more to say after that, but I would like to thank Sigmund for helping me through the rest of the too long evening. From that moment on, Sigmund helped me to accept the absurdity of my situation, while permitting my conscious mind to wander to thoughts that might tie Freud into the production at hand. While Freud certainly had things to say about Hamlet, this is all I could muster in regard to this particular performance: I started considering that Freud both used and recommended the use of cocaine in certain cases of treatment. I thankfully began to tap into my unconscious mind, repressing my desire to throw heavy objects at the stage. I also determined that I was viewing a production of Hamlet created by the director’s Id—a tangled nightmare of neuroses and disorganization, but lacking one key factor: the pleasure principle.