Albuquerque has Hamlet on the brain. An excellent traditional staging of the play is now showing at the Vortex Theatre (see Performance Review, “The Prince of Darkness,” March 30-April 5). Meanwhile, over at Gorilla Tango Comedy Theatre, the wackjob jokers from the Eat, Drink and Be Larry comedy troupe have masterminded a—how shall I put this?—somewhat less traditional late-night version of Shakespeare's Danish revenge saga.
The GT show is called Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer. I caught the opening night performance last Friday evening. In an odd way, it serves as a perfectly demented companion piece to the Vortex show. I highly recommend seeing both.
The traditional Hamlet over at the Vortex is an adept, respectful rendering. Hamlet: The Vampire Slayer, on the other hand, features the Danish prince as an enthusiastic high school cheerleader and his Uncle Claudius—excuse me, Claudio—as a spicy Latino salsa master with a genuine taste for human blood.
I loved almost everything about The Vampire Slayer. The show is what we in the theater criticism business call “good stupid.” The script by director Jason Witter and his fellow Eat, Drink and Be Larry scribe Aaron Frale is an unlikely combination of sharp references to Shakespeare's plays with hilarious sprinklings from popular culture. The bare bones set (consisting primarily of a red piano bench) along with the bare bones lighting (consisting mainly of a dimmer switch) are used with dynamic ingeniousness throughout. The choreography is exceptionally inspired. The music is rockin'.
Witter got some great performances from this talented cast, too. In a way, this is a much tighter ensemble performance than the one over at the Vortex, where Tricklocker Chad Brummett's Hamlet is such an inspired and dominant presence that he sometimes overshadows his accomplished supporters.
Here fellow Tricklocker Kevin R. Elder's Hamlet is also excellent, but he melds seamlessly with fantastic performances by Doug Montoyo (Claudio), Ethan Moya (Romeo), Shannon Rogers (Juliet, Buffy), George Bach (Horatio), Leslie Nesbit (Ophelia, Lady Macbeth) and Summer Olsson (Gertrude). The arrival near the end of the show of Nick Lopez (Macbeth) and Andy Brooks (Othello) as maverick vampire slayers made my stomach hurt I laughed so hard. When Laertes (Alex Knight) shows up for the thrilling Napoleon Dynamite-esque finale, I wanted to stand up and cheer.
Funny, funny stuff. Seriously. And it's only playing for two more evenings. Do the Hamlet combo in a single weekend. You'll never see Shakespeare the same way again.