Locating her in Manhattan, he stalks her, finding out that she has retired from the stage years ago, works unhappily in an office, collects cats and has a drinking problem. He stumbles on the idea to produce a revival of Hamlet, casting himself as the melancholy Dane and with Anna as his mother Gertrude. His interpretation is that the only scenery will be a huge bed, and that the whole play might take place on it, hence the title of this piece. Of course, he doesn’t tell Anna what confession he is after. Using many lines from Hamlet both in the rehearsal scenes and in his narration of the other events in his life, Michael continues to be cruel only to be kind until the final showdown.
The play is told mainly in monologues by both actors on microphones, alternating with rehearsal scenes from the Gertrude/Hamlet confrontation. This makes the evening more of a performance piece than a stage play. Once we are given the facts, the ending becomes very predictable though the actors are very intense throughout the play’s 90 minutes. Except for the battered white mattress, Rachel Hauck’s set is entirely black, as are most of the costumes by Jessica Pabst. Sometimes due to Scott Zielinski’s lighting, the actors fade into the dark walls of the set.
Lawrence, who has often appeared at the Rattlestick in very intense roles, makes Michael extremely passionate and emotional, one might say almost neurotic in his obsessive search which seems to take over his life during the one month of the story. While O’Toole is able to match Laurence in his intensity, she at times appears affected, in the manner of a soap opera actress emoting too much. In the small theater most of her facial expressions and stances seem to be exaggerated and larger than life. However, director Lisa Peterson keeps the play moving swiftly along despite the fact that it is mainly talk and we know what the ending will be. There are also a certain amount of melodramatic events along the way.
Hamlet in Bed is an acting tour de force for its cast of two and will probably interest theater people more than the usual run of theatergoers. It is cast in the new form of theater that is more storytelling than dramatization. Michael Lawrence adds another neurotic, obsessive portrayal to his résumé while the play brings Annette O’Toole back to the New York stage for the first time since 2012’s Heresy by A.R. Gurney.
Hamlet in Bed (through October 25, 2015)
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, in Manhattan
For tickets, call Ovationtix at 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.rattlestick.org
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission