Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
& Anna W. Menekseoglu
Produced by Dream Theatre Company
Dream Theater’s The Tragedy of Amleth, Princess of Denmark is playwright Jeremy Menekseoglu’s moody adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, recasting the Bard’s titular character as a fidgety lesbian (played by co-director Anna W. Menekseoglu) dressed in a limp gray emo tutu, an army jacket, and a pair of laced-up shit-kicker boots. There are several other notable departures from the original source material. Claudius (played by playwright and co-director Jeremy Menekseoglu), far from being the ambitious regicidal usurper we have come to expect, is rather a cloying boozer with his own Hamlet-esque misgivings about his ability to rise to the challenges of the throne. It is rather Amleth’s mother Gertrude, with her tight lips and austere bearings, who is the play’s true villain, orchestrating nefarious plots behind her daughter’s back (when she isn’t engaging in her own “sapphic” affairs with Mrs. Polonius).
To be sure, there’s something ambitious in Menekseoglu’s strident reconceptualization of this well-known story. Far from settling for the classic study of Hamlet’s self-imposed paralysis, Princess Amleth is someone whose gender means paralysis will be imposed from without. Like Bronte’s Bertha Mason locked in an attic or Virginia Woolf confined to the nursing homes of Twickenham, Amleth’s “hysteria” leads to Gertrude confining Amleth to a nunnery, guarded over by a grotesquely masochistic Mother Superior. To its credit, Amleth takes the fact of its central female body seriously, and in so doing, avoids easier feminist polemics in favor of something more emotionally honest.
Still, most of Amleth feels inchoate and disjointed. Mab Graves’s and Anna Menekseoglu’s costumes range from meticulously realized period garments to more contemporary alternative pieces with the effect of never quite being able to place its story. Similarly, the script is prone to histrionic imitations of Shakespeare’s high tragic style when a more intimately colloquial manner would have served its purposes better. Never quite willing to take Amleth off its pedestal, the actors are forced to speak in an oddly divergent range of English accents, often sacrificing basic intelligibility to feigned pretense. John-Paul Kostecki, for example, as the Artificer was all but incomprehensible, striking (what I though was) a German accent (though who could be sure?).
In the lead role, Anna Menekseoglu never quite breaks out of her “troubled teen princess” motif. Sleeping under a blanket built from the worn carcasses of childhood stuffed animals and disposed to angst-ridden acts of self-cutting, Menekseoglu’s Amleth looks and sounds as though she would be just at home in an episode of My So-Called Life. And as her would-be lover Ophelia, Megan Merrill’s faded lavender hair and vintage-lace bodice suggests something more radically non-conformist than we find in an otherwise timid and soft-spoken performance. Rachel Martindale and Jeremy Menekseoglu are relatively strong as Gertrude and Claudius even if they appear to be acting in a completely different play than its two female leads.
In short, for all its ambitions, Amleth feels confused and without a clearly articulated vision. Pushing its source material beyond all recognition, we stop to wonder at its motives for adapting such a well-known work. Indeed, “more matter with less art” might have proven a helpful maxim.
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Friday, March 8th, 2013.
Running time is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
Amleth, Princess of Denmark runs until April 7th, 2013. The Dream Theater Company is located at 556 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60616. Tickets can be obtained by calling (773) 552-8616.