Scrambled Hamlet

Bound in a Nutshell, named after the famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the clear early hits of this year’s Fringe Festival. A one-act adaptation of Hamlet, every word is Shakespeare’s own, but those words are juggled in distinctive ways to fuel this new tale, an adaptation by Gregory Wolfe and Moonwork, Inc. Some familiar characters—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laertes—are missing here, but others are given their words. It’s as if Hamlet were a textual Rubik’s Cube that can be re-organized in new fascinating, ways; Wolfe and his cohorts do so ingeniously. For instance, Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy comes at the end of the play rather than the middle; yet, in this exciting modification, it does not seem at all out of place.

Mr. Wolfe and co-adaptor Gregory Sherman (who also plays the part of Horatio) re-imagine the tragedy of Hamlet in a modern-day dungeon, replete with orange jumpsuits, interrogation rooms, electroshock torture, security cameras and closed circuit television. Hamlet, abused by Claudius’ guards, is being compelled to confess for the murder of Polonius and defend himself against charges of madness.

All of the leading characters have a wealth of Shakespearean credits under their belts and infuse the bard’s words with modern day inflections and nuances which make them easy to understand. Someone wholly unfamiliar with the play could still follow the action and comprehend most of what is happening onstage. Chris Haas, as Hamlet, seemed to have trouble projecting in the first production, but grew quickly comfortable in his role. His athleticism and agility made his confrontations with his captors all the more realistic.

Andrew Sherman’s musical composition and James Wolfe's technical displays are, quite fittingly, ominous and loud. Brant Thomas Murray’s lighting is fierce at times, blinding the characters with appropriately intimidating spotlights.

Mr. Wolfe and his Moonwork production company certainly know their Shakespeare. To have mastered it well enough to selectively craft a separate yet related tale such that it stands on its own demonstrates an impressive command and delight in the text.

This is not the Hamlet you will recall from high school and college; yet, you will remember much of the dialogue, because it’s all here, re-arranged in a new but nonetheless useful and entertaining way.

Bound in a Nutshell is part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC).

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