Theater Reconstruction Ensemble Conjures a Wry ‘Hamlet’
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Like the gingerly placed lampshade that allows a ghost light to bathe its final scene of battle-weary camaraderie in a calm and forgiving glow, there’s an oddball logic to the fits of madness that play catch and release with four brave souls determined to act the Dickens out of Shakespeare.
Performed with everything from gleeful buffoonery to seriously Elizabethan emoting to sheer panic, Theater Reconstruction Ensemble’s “How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet” is an intense, 70-minute whirlwind that lampoons, lionizes, psychoanalyzes and rationalizes the countless thespians and academics who’ve put their stamp, for better or worse, on the circa 1600 tale of a melancholy Dane undone by poisonous acts.
Seated in a front row that’s ominously close to the stage (or actually part of it?), Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb, Nathaniel Basch-Gould and Emily Marro begin the mega-meta proceedings in the guise of chatty audience members given to inappropriate coughing, embarrassing confessions of intestinal distress, and hushed, endearingly neurotic improvised chatter upon realizing the play’s the thing — and they’re in it now — and it ain’t “Hamilton.”
“Maybe the show is just some sort of discussion about the play ‘Hamlet,’ ” they speculate. “Or like a PowerPoint presentation? Maybe a TED Talk?”
Spurred into action when a technician wheels in a rack of period costumes and fires off a plume or two from the fog machine, the friends suit up, turn their chairs to face the audience, place palm on top of palm on top of palm, and strike the first of several séance-like tableaus that will, with fever dream effectiveness, conjure brilliant little bits and pieces of the play — but never enough to send you out of the theater able to say that you actually saw “Hamlet.”
It’s not for lack of trying, though. The thoroughly befuddled foursome never seems to quite get over making that transition from observer to participant. It’s an awesome responsibility to summarize, analyze, and agree upon what this well-trodden text wants to say or has to offer — and in their epic attempt to do so, the charismatic and insanely skilled actors find in Hamlet (the person, not the play) a kindred spirit. Just as that title character is willing to throw the kitchen sink at his vow to avenge dear old dead dad, Theater Reconstruction Ensemble pulls out all the stops while staying mission-focused on its quest to make sense of things.
Frequent spasms of spirit possession by Shakespearean stock characters, a slapstick battle with the upstage wall, a desperate attempt to steer the play by hijacking the stage manager’s headset, and the passing of an electrical current between twitchy thespians might seem at first to be nothing more than a collection of loony, pyrotechnic distractions. But like the sweet prince who feigns madness, there’s a solid method at work here that says more about our drive than our destination.
“Okay, that’s a good answer,” says Gelb at one point, slipping out of character and, more or less, back into himself. “That’s a good answer. It’s not exactly the answer I’m looking for. But it’s good. Could you try again? It’s the same riddle.”
Written by John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger; conceived and directed by John Kurzynowski. Through April 14: Tues., Wed., Thurs, Fri. at 7pm; Sat. at 2 & 7pm; Sun. at 2pm. At HERE (145 Sixth Ave.; enter on Dominick St., one block south of Spring St.). For tickets ($18), visit here.org or call 212-352-3101. Artist info at reconstructionensemble.org.