Hamlet in Bed: Theater review by Raven Snook
Riffing on a classic may seem like folly for a contemporary dramatist. But this is familiar territory for performer-playwright Michael Laurence, whose long-running solo show, Krapp, 39, used Samuel Beckett's similarly titled 1958 masterwork as a template for his autobiographical musings. For the ambitious two-hander, Hamlet in Bed, Laurence taps into the Bard's best as a tortured adopted actor (named Michael, to blur the thin line between life and art) who casts the woman he believes to be his birth mother as Queen Gertrude opposite his glum Danish prince in a no-budget mounting of Shakespeare's tragedy.
Lanky, deadpan and sleazy-sexy, Laurence gets a startling amount of mileage out of this soapy premise thanks to the show's off-kilter style (much of the frequently funny text is delivered at a microphone, like stand-up soliloquies), Lisa Peterson's modulated direction, Scott Zielinski's transformative lighting and, indispensably, the electrifying Annette O’Toole. As Anna, a once promising theater actress turned angry lush, O'Toole channels multiple archetypes of womanhood at the same time: mother, old maid, whore, seductress and victim. Her profanity-laden, slurred Southern drawl suddenly gives way to beautifully articulated verses that offer a glimpse at what could have been.
Though the play is ostensibly Michael's story as he works through his mommy issues, Hamlet in Bed emerges as Anna's play. For her, the rest isn't silence, it's a primal scream.—Raven Snook
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Off Broadway). By Michael Laurence. Directed by Lisa Peterson. With Laurence, Annette O’Toole. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.