Encore Michigan

Penny Seats: To Be Or Not To Be…Take Two

Review June 24, 2019 Kym Reinstadler

ANN ARBOR – The first lines of Fortinbras are the last lines of Hamlet – and that’s a tall order since every character of significance has been murdered or committed suicide.

To create a sequel to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, playwright Lee Blessing focuses on Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, a minor character who manages to survive the grisly annihilation.

But Fortinbras, his sights set on becoming Denmark’s new king, is certain the public will not believe the mass killings at Elsinore Castle are the result of jealousy, revenge and madness.

Ignoring Hamlet’s stoic friend Horatio’s admonitions to “tell the truth,” Fortinbras concocts a story about a Polish spy who is to blame for the mayhem. In creating a villain he also creates a motive for the Danes to invade Poland.

After all, who’s going to believe that the Danish royal family bumped itself off?

Fortinbras, frenetically portrayed by Nick Yokum, is a likable but shallow prince who ascends to the throne. However, he quickly discovers that ruling is not all it’s cracked up to be.  

In contrast to Hamlet’s fatal indecision, Fortinbras’ style is carefree and careless. He doesn’t have leadership skills or a background in diplomacy. Military conquests are successful, despite his incompetence.

Fortinbras’  efforts to lead are also foiled by the ghosts of the recently deceased who, at first, meander through Elsinore, and gradually seem to stalk him right into his bed chamber.

“Something about this castle,” a pensive Fortinbras muses, “makes me want to talk to myself.”

Most vexing is Ophelia (Alysia Kolascz), who seduces Fortinbras into doing her bidding, her brother Laertes (Jack Meloche), King Claudius (Matt Cameron) and Queen Gertrude (Erin Gibson Lauridsen), who profess profound regrets. 

There’s also the mostly silent and cynical Polonius (Caleb Gilbert), who sighs that death is not the adventure he imagined. “Death has all the uncertainty of life and twice the solitude, “ he muses.

Penny Seats’ Fortinbras takes place on the sidewalk and lawn in front of the band shell at beautiful West Park, weather permitting.  The one-hour and fifty-minute, two-act show features a wonderful moveable, modular castle set that is quite elaborate for an outdoor show. The set was designed and built by Stephen “Skippy” Hankes.

The show is directed by Joseph Zettelmaier and produced by Lauren M. London. Some of the roles are cross-cast, which women playing male roles. Actress Julia Garlotte does a fantastic job as the show’s conscience, Horatio. Annie Dilworth and Vicki Morgan are delightful as the Polish maidens, but pull double duty as the Ambassador and the Captain.

Kameron Lauridsen is convincing as the court’s loyal go-fer, Osric, one of this play’s few alive characters – at least for most of the show.

A cleaver feature of this show, though set in medieval Denmark, is the imprisonment of Hamlet’s ghost in a TV set. He is able to interact with the other ghosts from the screen and warns each not to touch the dial. Cunning Ophelia, however, somehow finds a remote control and knows how to use it. At last, with bagpipes playing and drums beating, Hamlet is liberated from the TV in a wild dance.

Sounds more like Monty Python than Shakespeare, doesn’t it? Gags compound the fun.

Brush up on your knowledge of Hamlet to get a full quota of laughs. But is show is both comical and tragic all on its own. It’s also a springboard for ruminating on the meaning of life and whether we’ll understand it any better after we’re dead.

The show can also be viewed in the context of contemporary politics. What might happen when an impulsive, politically inexperienced person of prominence who is determined to spin the truth rises to power.

Like Hamlet, Fortinbras ends with most everyone dead but not gone.

It is not presented in Shakespeare’s vernacular, so it is easy on modern ears to comprehend.

Week of 11/28/2022

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