Amleth, Princess of Denmark
Written by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Great potential obscured by clichés, word fatigue
|Dream Theatre Company presents|
|Amleth, Princess of Denmark|
Review by Joy Campbell
William Shakespeare based his Hamlet on the 12th-century tale of “Amleth, Prince of Denmark,” and an obscure story became a timeless theatrical and literary classic. In Jeremy Menekseoglu’s Amleth, the better- known elements of Hamlet provide us familiar references for this creatively re-imagined work. Prince Amleth is recast as a princess; Polonius is now a woman; and Gertrude is no longer the pawn between brothers.
Written not in iambic pentameter but in formalized English, the script is colorful and witty, and well delivered by the cast. Elements of the reinterpreted story will be familiar: Amleth (Anna Menekseoglu) returns from school to find her father dead of a supposed gun-cleaning incident, and her mother married to her uncle Claudius. The ghost of her father comes to her to demand revenge for his murder. There are nice adaptations of Shakespearean plot lines, and a sense of intelligence and capability runs through the production. The acting overall is strong: in particular, Rachel Martindale as Gertrude, the Machiavellian queen with a quest for power, is excellent; Leana Savoie is delightful as the loyal and hilarious but not very bright Mrs. Polonius; Jeremy Menekseoglu is terrific as the kind, misunderstood Claudius. Other cast members are engaging as well.
The company clearly has no shortage of creative talent at its disposal: from the gorgeous original costumes to the haunting scenic projections to the use of creepy video in the scene between Amleth and her father’s ghost, care and talent is seen in every detail of this small, intimate production. (There were some technical problems on opening night, but they were quickly resolved.)
That said, the show has its problems. The first is that the writer is also the director. The reason for the standard warning against this is well illustrated by this production: writers tend to be too close to their work, and have a hard time distinguishing what is good from what is justifiable. The script needs to be trimmed so that the good elements aren’t lost in extraneous or unnecessarily lengthy scenes. Another problem I had with this production is the problem I tend to have with most productions of Hamlet: the central character is played as whiny and annoying, and I don’t care about them. As Amleth, Anna Menekseoglu starts off strong but then spends most of her time being petulant and tiresome, giving monologue after tedious monologue over the decision to revenge her father. Given that she admits they barely had a relationship, we are denied the passionate motivation of filial love that drives her actions. She is also the only character who delivers her lines in an English accent, ostensibly to show the results of her education, but this just makes her sound pretentious and snotty. It’s a shame, because she shows real stage presence.
I’m the first to cheer for gender-bending in casting in order to provide more roles for women in the classics, or just to mix things up, but here the introduction of an inane romantic relationship with timid, twitchy Ophelia (Megan Merrill) is never believable, and seems to have little purpose other than to appeal to a straight guy’s lesbian fantasies. Indeed, the theater company’s web site features a large photo of the two women in an embrace, unfortunately giving the misleading impression that this is just another titillating evening for the frat boys, when in fact the play has many intelligent and redeeming qualities. In another scene, the powerful Gertrude is revealed to have seduced Mrs. Polonius at one time in a disappointingly trite insinuation straight from the Playbook of Straight Male Myths: all powerful women have lesbian tendencies. It would have been far more refreshing had Amleth been a strong, certain young woman aided by her lifelong best friend Ophelia instead of this muddled mess of clichés, which includes making Amleth a self-cutter when under stress.
This company shows real potential, and the material a lot of promise, if writer Menekseoglu can let someone else direct his work. That’s why authors (and even theater critics) have editors. With some good collaboration, I look forward to this theater company really going places.
Amleth, Princess of Denmark continues through April 7th at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are $16-$20, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at DreamTheatreCompany.com. (Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Giau Truong and Megan Merrill
Anna W. Menekseoglu (Amleth), Megan Merrill (Ophelia), Rachel Martindale (Gertude), Jeremy Menekseoglu (Claudius), Leana Savoie (Mrs. Polonius, Sister of the Order of Clare), Hasket Morris (Dog Master), John-Paul Kostecki (Artificer, Bishop), Laura Gouin (Lady, Mother of the Order of Clare)
behind the scenes
Jeremy Menekseoglu (co-director, sound design, projections), Anna W. Menekseoglu (co-director, set design, co-costume design, costume construction); Greg Callozzo (set construction), Paul Knappenberger (lighting design, set construction, weapons master); Mab Graves (co-costume design, illustrations); Rachel Martindale (costumes construction), Megan Merrill (costume construction, photos, hats); Dana Von, Colin Carroll (stage management, props); Janice Rumschlag (marketing); Shannon Daly (Kickstarter manager); Giau Truong (photos)