Reviewed by Matt Ritchey
The Quarto Vs. Folio issue in Shakespeare stems from the Bard’s editors, Heminge and Condell, claiming that the plays as originally printed in quarto format were fraudulent and full of mistakes. They fixed this by reprinting all of his plays in the Folio. These differences didn’t necessarily change the stories, but the way they were told.
In Coin and Ghost’s Bad Hamlet playing at the New American Theatre, we are reminded about this by the young actor playing King Hamlet’s ghost. And yes, this tells the story differently. From the beginning, Claudius and Gertrude address the audience using modern language. Hamlet then appears, using Instagram Live outside the theatre performing his role using the Shakespearean text. Back to Claudius and Gertrude in modern language and Claudius telling his new wife that he looks at Hamlet as almost a little brother… which then leads the actor – not the character, the ACTOR – to turn and give a monologue about his real life and a moment when he had a heartfelt moment with his real brother. Then, he’s back into the scene. This motif plays with all of the actors doing monologues about how they are similar to their characters.
This is called “homework.” It is what a smart director will give to his actors to get them more connected to their characters. Performed, it disconnects the audience from the story. From here on, Bad Hamlet is a mix of non-Shakespearean work loosely following characters from the play (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a five minute freestyle rap session, they have a painfully long improvisation via Instagram Live at a local restaurant interviewing a poor patron about their friend Hamlet, characters yell at one another at the same time, making their words pointless gibberish, etc). There is one lovely moment of a bench turning into a bed for some movement work, as well as an interesting sequence of “To be or not to be” where the actor is interrupted by videos of countless other actors doing the piece (a nod to the fact that this brilliant speech has been done by so many amazing performers, the pressure to compare is so great it can make one buckle), but as a whole, it’s a mess.
Despite the fact that Bad Hamlet has a talented cast, the production comes off in an interminably long big-budget exploratory college thesis with no core message or roadmap. It becomes a chore to watch and a reminder that, indeed, it’s not about the story, it’s about the way the story is told.
Bad Hamlet is.