Friday, January 8, 2010

The World's Fastest Hamlet, Austin Shakespeare at First Night Austin, December 31

Austin Shakespeare winked at the bard and happily laughed at itself with The World's Fastest Hamlet, a twenty-minute show given its second (annual?) staging at First Night Austin, the December 31 downtown festival.

Last year the same four-actor cast performed twice under the First Street Bridge during a bright, mild afternoon. This year they briefly took the music stage at City Hall Plaza at 6:15 p.m. as dark fell and the First Night parade unwound behind them along the lake front.

The joke is one of Ultimate Compression. When you take a great and renowned three-hour tragedy and metaphorically throw it into a car-crusher, only the crazy survives. The script is built of familiar patches of dialogue, all in their proper order, but without the emotional depth or imagery of the tragic. Those who know and love that vigorous meditation on treachery, guilt, responsibility, love, friendship, rank, decision and mortality are left with only the "vigorous" part of it. And what could be more absurd?

So this guy in a black beret is called up on the ramparts for a dialogue with a ghost, puts on an antic disposition, repudiates his girlfriend, threatens his uncle king and aunt mother, skewers a counselor, battles pirates, gets back to contemplate a skull and encounter the unexpected funeral of the girlfriend, accepts a friendly fencing match and winds up surrounded by corpses before becoming one himself. What?? And this, they say, is probably the greatest literature ever written in English??

Imagine doing all that at breakneck speed with four actors popping out from behind a flimsy screen, waving props like a flimsy "Casper the ghost" cut-out and using the wildest out-in-the-saloon melodramatic style.

It's a blast, and it's all the funnier when you recognize familiar Austin Shakespearians. ALT has reviewed most of them.

Read more and view images at . . . .

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