Dedicated to “creating socially and politically acute theatre for the 21st century” the PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) for their 33rd season offers this exuberant revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1979 two one-act plays, Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, which cheekily satirize the theater and political oppression. Inspired by Wittgenstein and his fellow Czech playwright Pavel Kohout, Mr. Stoppard as he did in his monumental Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead again here ingeniously appropriates Shakespeare for his own ingenious purposes.
Seemingly yet another sendup of the English public boys school system, Dogg’s Hamlet has its fresh faced subjects in uniforms playing volleyball and carrying on as an elderly headmaster totters in and out. A deliveryman shows up with an order of gray blocks and slabs. The conceit is that the characters speak in the invented language of “Dogg” which is characterized by nonsensical usage of English words. Artichoke and scab are among those that get a lot of mileage.
Everyone vigorously and precisely tosses around the objects and a platform and a Scrabble-like backdrop is assembled. After a series of kooky non-sequiturs are spelled out such as “God Slaying Them” the play’s title is displayed. It’s been a mildly amusing if strained 25 minutes of whimsey.
Now, we’re given a hilarious 20 minute Keystone Kops-style condensation of Hamlet. Slapstick and spot on concentrated characterizations faithfully render that monumental tragedy to sidesplitting effect as the immortal dialogue is flawlessly delivered. Hamlet virtually has intercourse with Gertrude, the Player King and Queen are cut-out marionettes, and Yorick’s skull is joyously tossed around. Think Mel Brooks. It could be interpreted as a sly commentary on the chore of experiencing this familiar classic yet again.
The actors appear for their curtain call and a sign “Encore” is on view. So, it’s all repeated in five breakneck minutes that are hysterical. Director Cheryl Faraone’s staging is a breathtaking exhibition of physical comedy interlaced with solid depth, realizing Mr. Stoppard’s antic vison to optimum effect.
Three witches appear in darkness wearing black capes with hoods that have strands of lights eerily illuminating them as they ominously proclaim their prophecies. This neat effect starts off an inspired enactment of Macbeth cryptically being performed in an apartment. We later learn that this is the home and salon of an artist.
This entrancing performance is interrupted by a trenchcoated figure in a fedora barging in who spouts barbed Orwellian doublespeak. We soon learn this a Communist party inspector, outrageously portrayed by Tara Giordano with ominous bureaucratic grandeur and superior comic timing. Besides harassing and belittling those in the apartment there are veiled threats to those watching as Ms.Giordano sternly addresses the audience directly.
…I Know you’ve been having a run of bad luck all around—jobs lost, children failing exams, letters undelivered, driving licenses withdrawn, passports indefinitely postponed. It’s as if the system had a mind of it’s own.
The company are comprised of once distinguished actors now reduced to meniality such as being a janitor or a waitress due to trumped up charges of dissidence. Stoppard vividly depicts the tragic plight of artists enduring persecution while soldiering on by following their consciences. Ms. Faraone’s command of stagecraft is equally as impressive in this ultimately poignant work as we get a crisp partial rendering of Macbeth conjoined with the breezy trappings of a comedy of menace.
The wide-eyed and animated Christo Grabowski is exquisitely manic as Hamlet and a thoughtful Banquo. The mature Peter Schmitz’s high caliber drollery enriches his turns as the headmaster, Shakespeare and Claudius. Lucy Van Atta is a wickedly bawdy Gertrude and a haughty hostess. Madeleine Russell makes a daffy impression as Ophelia. Christopher Marshall is a compelling and intense Macbeth.
The magnetic ensemble also includes Matthew Ball, Denise Cormier, Olivia Christie, Will Koch, Emily Ma, Katie Marshall, Lior Selve, Zach Varicchione and Connor Wright who all achieve zesty characterizations in their various roles.
From the industrial-shaded blocks and cubes to the bohemian residence with cool modern art paintings, scenic designer Mark Evancho provides arresting landscapes for both plays. Hallie Zieselman’s lighting design accentuates the pieces’ moods and tones with aesthetic flair. Pop standards, rousing classical melodies and effects are appealingly ever present due to Ellery Rhodes’ sharp sound design. Natty school uniforms and lustrous Shakespearean garments are facets of Chris Romagnoli’s splendid costume design for Dogg’s Hamlet. Drab street clothes conveying the grim look of life lived under a harsh regime characterized Rebecca Lafón’s óartfully appropriate costume design for Cahoot’s Macbeth.
This smashing production of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth affirms PTP/NYC’s mission as well as Stoppard’s stature as one of the foremost writers of dramatic literature. It plays in repertory with Havel: The Passion of Thought, which is a program of five short plays by Vaclav Havel, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. This dual event commemorates Havel, the distinguished playwright, dissident and later the Czechoslovak president who died 2011 at the age of 75.
Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth (in repertory with “Havel: The Passion of Thought” through August 3, 2019)
PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project)
Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.ptpnyc.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with one intermission