Photo By: C. Stanley Photography
To laugh or not to laugh? That is not the question. In Faction of Fools’ HAMLECCHINO: Clown Prince of Denmark, the pensive and tormented character of Prince Hamlet is infused with the comedic spirit of Arlecchino, the servant-like Commedia dell’Arte character, to create a fresh take on the prince who must avenge his father’s death.
Hamlecchino (Matthew R. Wilson) was already feeling uneasy about his father’s death and the speed with which his mother, Queen Gertrude (Eva Wilhelm) gave her affections to Claudius (Billy Finn), the elder Hamlet’s brother, and Hamlecchino’s uncle, who is now the King of Denmark. Learning that Hamlet was overthrown in a treacherous murder plot carried out by his uncle King Claudius, further tortures Hamlecchino, as he becomes “a rogue and peasant slave” to the retribution he must carry-out.
Taking on the nimble characteristics of Arlecchino, Hamlecchino is seen bouncing around and reasoning aloud to himself about whether and how he should seek revenge against King Claudius. But all this talking aloud about his uncertainty, agony, and contemplation of suicide, lead the characters to believe that Hamlecchino’s madness is due to his unrequited love of Ophelia (Emma Crane Foster). The inaction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is intensified by Hamlecchino’s foolery, as he sways between intense protestation of his duty, and a lamenting for the lack of passion he has to get the job done. Yet we see him accidentally bring Polonius to his grave, for which he shows little remorse. Hamlecchino merely breathes an unsympathetic “farewell” after seeing Polonius (Toby Mullford), the father of Ophelia, fall at his hands.
The nimble Hamlecchino, played by Faction of Fools artistic director, isn’t the only character refashioned with a whimsical façade in this slapstick comedy. In fact, we see many of the stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte adapted to HAMLECCHINO. Pulcinella materializes as the apparition of the elder Hamlet that only Hamlecchino and some foot soldiers can see. Polonius is the know-it-all-character, or the Dottore, who is actually far from it, and his daughter Ophelia along with Laertes (John V. Bellomo) are the innamorati, the over dramatic lovers who are more overtaken with the idea and emotions of love, than their object of affection. Gertrude is the easily aroused Donna Zezza, and Claudius the infiltrating Capitano.
It is not only the commedia dell’Arte characters that lend themselves to this re-envisioned Hamlet, but also the antics of the 16th century theater that we have come to know and love while laughing at the Fools for the past three seasons. The out-of-place limbo dance and calypso music as the Norwegians seize Denmark; the skull that is found during grave digging that Hamlecchino moves to sing a ‘”cha-cha-cha” ditty as he reminisces that it was his favorite jester; Polonius trying to communicate with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern through gestures and slow speech, even though they are using ASL; and plenty of sexual innuendo add to the comic relief of the serious plot.
Amazement doesn’t stop in HAMLECCHINO. Amelia Hensley and Marianna Devenow, two Gallaudet students that play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, give added depth to the player’s use of over–the-top physicality. Ophelia’s ribbon-climbing acrobatic scene and dramatic song near her death marvel, while also setting a more somber tone. And the intense sword fight that leads to death of most of the characters is well choreographed, but may leave some front-row audience members anxious about their own fate. One lucky one might just catch the crown!
HAMLECCHINO, the final show of the Faction of Fools’ third season is playing at Gallaudet Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm, and a matinee show on Saturdays (2 pm), through May 19 - Follow the link to buy tickets.