The Accidental Hamlet
nytheatre.com review by Charles C Bales
August 15, 2013
A scene from The Accidental Hamlet
Taking on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, even when you’re taking jabs at it, is a daunting task. The two-man show, The Accidental Hamlet, tries hard to bring a fresh approach to the Bard’s masterpiece, but ultimately fails because of its juvenile humor and sluggish pacing.
Translated from German (where it was titled Hamlet For You) and premiering in English at FringeNYC 2013 at the Connelly Theater in Alphabet City, this retelling incorporates clever dramaturgical exposition and self-referential asides. Little of the actual Hamlet text is used. Only a handful of scenes from the drama are enacted by the two characters, Frederick and John, who play all the roles from the Prince of Danes to Ophelia as well as themselves. Most of the action is the twosome bickering about how to stage the classic tragedy and who gets to play what part.
If it ran a frantic and manic 75 minutes, The Accidental Hamlet might have been diverting entertainment. Brevity, after all, is the soul of wit. But at an overly long hour and 45 minutes (including an unnecessary intermission), the show feels like a dragged out MFA Acting improv exercise that quickly loses steam. And the direction by Lissa Moira doesn’t help, letting the multitude of bad jokes fall flat and the rare good jokes fall flat as well. Even the audience participation sections are uninspired.
Frederick, the uppity one (who portrays Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, and others), John, the immature one (who portrays Ophelia, Gertrude, and others), and the material they are given to work with by writer Sebastian Seidel as translated by Philip K. Zimmerman are simply not interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention for almost two hours.
The only time I remember laughing out loud is when Frederick recites the classic “To be or not to be” monologue à la William Shatner — Captain Kirk from Star Trek. But one chuckle isn’t enough to sustain an entire show, and for that one funny moment, there are many that are groan-worthy at best, downright unfunny at worst.
Take for instance the garish costuming of John as Gertrude: a tiny gold lamé blouse stuffed with enormous balloon boobs topped with a red fright wig. And John’s overt sexual overtures to Hamlet and Claudius while playing Gertrude (and overtures to Frederick while playing himself as well), are neither provocative nor edgy. They’re just weird.
Bob Homeyer as Frederick fares better than Danny Ashkenasi as John. Earnest Frederick seems to want to put on a good show. But spastic John is written (played?) like a tantrum-throwing teenage girl. His petulance grows tired quickly and reaches a painful climax in a rendition of “I Will Survive” that at least includes somewhat whimsical Hamlet-esque musings in place of the song’s original lyrics. It goes on way too long, much like the show itself.
Perhaps there is method in this madness. And maybe an audience of kindergartners might appreciate the overall silliness and childish antics of the two energetic actors. But for all its desire to be a comedy, The Accidental Hamlet is deadly dull.