Rating: 5 Stars
I was randomly looking for things to do and I came across this play that re-imagines Hamlet if the protagonist was Batman. This I had to see.
It’s playing at the Slate Theater, which I’d never even heard of. It’s at an awkward location kind of between the International District and the Stadium District. It’s housed in a large building that previously was the immigration building for Seattle. It’s now known as INScape Arts, a rental space for artists.
To give you an idea of how small budget this theater is, the person that collected my ticket later turned out to be the founder of the company, the director of the play, and played Hamlet. The theater had maybe 40 seats or so, and was probably a little bit more than halfway full. The entire cast was I think around eight people.
Here’s the setting. The last King, Police Commissioner Gordrick, has recently died mysteriously. He was a father figure to Hamlet. Quickly upon that, the Jester has married Hamlet’s sister, Barbara.
Hamlet is left desolate and is moping around the Castle Gothic. However, the ghost of Gordrick has now been recently seen wandering the halls. Hamlet’s good friend Horatio convinces Hamlet to talk to the ghost. The apparition tells Hamlet that he’s been murdered and needs to be avenged.
Hamlet quickly zeroes in on The Jester as a suspect and swears vengeance. Hamlet tries to trick The Jester into showing his guilt by holding a play within a play. Hamlet misses several opportunities to kill The Jester for various reasons. Hamlet does a soliloquy while holding a skull. Hamlet engages in a fencing contest. Everyone but Horatio dies. Fortinbras comes in, takes a look around, and says thank you very much, it looks like I’m in charge now.
Does any of this sound familiar? It is definitely the play Hamlet.
Now imagine that Hamlet is an idiot. He decides that he needs to put on a disguise to solve this mystery. The disguise is a Halloween bat mask. Everyone recognizes him and his disguise is not helped by the fact that he calls himself Bat-Hamlet (his first name choice was Rabies Man). He makes Horatio put on a disguise too and names her (it is a woman playing the role) Songbird Boy.
The Jester’s elder foolish councilor (otherwise possibly known as Polonius) is a bird like quacking man named The Puffin. Another of her advisers is named Lord Riddles.
Ophelia, Hamlet’s love, is vacuous and loves cats. When she goes mad (as she does in the real play), she becomes O-Feline and comes riding in on a wheeled cat scratch post. Her brother, Laertes, who swears to revenge on Hamlet for the death of his father and sister, is actually Green Laertes.
And, oh yeah, Hamlet’s sister, Barbara, later is revealed to be Bat-Hamlet Girl. At various points Mr Freeze, Harlequin, Poison Ivy, and Scarecrow all make appearances.
The play is silly and slapstick but is just a tremendous amount of fun. The audience is directly on the floor with the players, and the players do interact in various minimal ways with the audience. There were many laugh out loud moments.
It makes fun of Christopher Nolan’s Batman (Bat-Hamlet starts off speaking in a deep guttural voice even though everyone knows it’s Hamlet). It makes fun of the 1960’s television Batman (cliffhangers, references to old chum, the silly fights, and the campy villains). It makes fun of Hamlet (why does it take so long for Hamlet to kill Claudius?). The scene where Bat-Hamlet kills The Puffin (ie Polonius) behind the curtain is hilarious as the corpse refuses to stay hidden.
It was an absolutely great time. I have no idea what the budget was for this show, but I’d imagine that, not counting the players, it was possibly a couple of hundred dollars. This shows the power of theater and committed actors. The costumes were simple. The props looked like they came from the dollar store.
This reminds me of a version of Titus Andronicus that I saw many years ago. It was a similarly small obscure theater. When the Roman centurions came marching out, they were wearing football helmets spray painted gray. I’m like, what am I getting myself into? It turned out to be one of my favorite play experiences. Like here, they made their simplicity a strength.
When I go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the production is usually out of this world. I saw a version of Macbeth that re-created WWII battle scenes, complete with intense action and loud explosions. They are a world class organization and it shows.
The thing is, I get a great deal out of enjoyment out of both. I like the shock and awe spectacle of world class scenery, directing, and acting of the OSF. However, I also like the immediacy of a simple production where magic is made out of nothing and I’m sitting less than five feet from the action.