Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mad Cat Theatre; The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show (reviews)

Mad Cat Theatre premiered its original production of The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show  at the Miami Light Project at the Goldman Warehouse on July 26, 2012.
Wrapping up Mad Cat Theatre Company’s 12th season, is yet another World Premiere, this time a play written by Jessica Farr and Paul Tei. The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is a deconstruction of Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Hamlet”. Their take not only allots the age old question “To be or not to be” but contemplates whether or not the question is even still valid in today’s hypermodern society. Through the use of music, multimedia and puppetry, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, directed by Paul Tei, is a tragedy of errors that remains in dialogue with the dead in order to build a method for which to go on living.
Paul Tei directed a cast that featured Troy Davidson, Ken Clement, Christopher A. Kent, Giordan Diaz, Carey Brianna Hart, Emilie Paap, Theo Reyna, Brian Sayre, James Samuel Randolph, and Jessica Farr.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The bones of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy are visible in The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, Jessica Farr and Paul Tei’s ambitious deconstruction of a world theater classic.... At 2 1/2 hours, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is quirky, engaging, alienating, provocative, frustrating and more.
...Tei creates plenty of striking stage pictures in the black-box theater at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a space he utilizes inventively with his talented creative team – set designer Sean McClelland, sound designer-composer Matt Corey, lighting designer Melissa Santiago Keenan and costume designer Leslye Menshouse. Davidson isn’t an electric or great Hamlet, but his performance works and he handles his dialogue well...
The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show takes on Shakespeare with an audacious, go-big-or-go-home attitude. The original wins hands down, but props to Mad Cat for adventurously challenging itself by trying to make a classic resonate in fresh ways.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theatre On Stage:
Theater should not be safe, comforting and familiar; it should be an unsettling stimulus for a fresh examination of life and society. Conventional expectations be damned.

Playwrights Tei and Jessica Farr certainly have accomplished that with their world premiere at Mad Cat Theatre Company. This Hamlet is a stylized mashup of Shakespeare, Brecht and 21st Century performance art that examines existentialism versus nihilism by setting the vacillating Dane in a fantasia of modern American politics and power.
Farr and Tei deserve laurels for shoving past mainstream strictures with intelligence and a unique artistic sensibility. But as with Mad Cat’s Macbeth and the Monster and so my grandmother died blah…blah…blah , it’s time to demand less throw-it-at-the-wall invention and more artistic rigor. Doubtless, Farr and Tei can explain the relevance of every moment to its themes. But the relevance isn’t vaguely perceptible to the audience in many moments and even long stretches. Perpetual clarity is hardly a necessary element of theater, but for this dinosaur of a critic, the audience’s comprehension even on an unconscious or visceral level is part of the artistic equation if you want them to connect to your piece.
Many of the staging ideas are delicious, such as Hamlet texting his “doubt truth to be a liar” love letter to Ophelia’s cell phone. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Skyped in. Secretary of State Polonius is a hand puppet operated by the venal President Claudius. Some ideas, though, go too far such as burying the German emcee under an accent so thick that we can’t understand her.
The cast is having an infectiously grand old time. Most performances seem comfortable and credible, an accomplishment in this upside down world. But one performance is barely adequate and another actor’s performance is flatter than Oklahoma, illustrating absolutely no feel for the words — when he can be heard or understood.

Back at the top of the list is the ever-dependable Ken Clement as a delightfully slick demagogue President Claudius. Clement is utterly convincing in everything he does, even when he’s operating Polonius the puppet. In the title role, Troy Davidson is as good as we’ve ever seen him. His somber and smart Hamlet has the bulk of the mashed-up dialogue, yet Davidson makes both the verse and vernacular sound plausible.
Christopher Kent... provides four solid and distinct performances as the leading player delivering a passage from Muller’s play The Hamlet Machine; the grave Fortinbras, the dissolute Osric and the wry Irish gravedigger.
Acknowledge that Tei has the courage of his convictions to consistently invest his productions with a refreshingly stylistic vision. He creates idiosyncratic work on stage that’s likely pretty close to the images in his head. So the only issue is whether individual audience members can plug into his wavelength. What you can’t argue with is that this, even with its occasional excess and sloppiness, this is theater.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
There are several words which come to mind in order to fairly critique Mad Cat Theatre’s world premiere of The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, the 2012 version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy brought to life here by playwrights Jessica Farr and talented South Florida writer/actor Paul Tei. The first is “theatre” and the second is “intellectual.”
The ensemble includes Farr as Mueller, the copy-cat /narrator mumbling her important lines usually in a thick German accent; and the always reliable Ken Clement as Mr. President/Claudius who murdered Hamlet’s father and then married his widow Gertrude (Carey Brianna Hart.). Of course, there is the rest ofthe Bard’s band including Hamlet(Troy Davidson), the get-thee-to-a-nunnery Ophelia (Emilie Paap); her Smitten brother Laertes (Gordon Diaz); Hamlet’s pal Horatio (Theo Reyna;) the drummer (Brian Sayre) and, playing several roles (all well done) Christopher Kent. Kent’s singular moment s as an actor with egomania and his turn as the gravedigger with an impeccable accent are prize-worthy supporting moments

Vice President Palonius is actually a puppet *can you imagine any office holder as a puppet?} handled ably and humorously by the versatile Ken Clement.

Nods should go to the creative team st the black box theatre, as well. Set designer Sean McClelland, sound guru Matt Corey, lighting designer Melissa Santiago Keenan, costumer Leslye Menshouse and the rest of the technical talent.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Joined by co-writer Jessica Farr, Tei has brought us a circus of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Heiner Muller's Hamletmachine (Google it - ouch)) glued together by the Farr/Tei slick writing, sometimes brilliant staging and astro imaginations. It's just too bad they didn't bring an editor, for there were a few times when a seemingly endless scene elicited an urge to stand up and shout: “Enough already!”

And that's a shame, for Mad Cat has a lot to say, and usually they say it well, but with the Dog and Pony they're mired in current global and local political history (a tough place to garner laughs, belly or otherwise) and are at times ill-served by an uneven cast.
The many scenes mostly rattle by, stopped now and then by theatrical magic; viz Ophelia's corpse being carried off stage.

There's prancing and dancing, singing of sorts and really well done musical accompaniment...  For all, it's an interesting evening; what will pop forth next? Paul Tei stretches his theatre with every show and he does that here with some success and that's worthy of much applause just for the trying.
Chris Joseph went to see it for The Miami New Times:
In their latest play, The Hamlet Dog And Pony Show, which opened this weekend at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, Mad Cat throws the proverbial kitchen sink at its audience.
The use of fog machines, a live band, and actor James Samuel Randolph's voice as the disembodied spirit of King Hamlet was stylish and cool. Sean McClelland's simple nightmare carnival set design against Lighthouse's black walls made for a fantastical ambiance.
The entire cast turns in a solid performance. Davidson's ability to play a cool, not-quite-sane, not-quite-crazy Hamlet is impressive. Clement, as Claudius and the puppet, is hilarious. Christopher Kent puts on a virtuoso performance as a supporting actor, portraying with flair and conviction not only a guitar and bass, but also several characters, such as the Gravedigger, the Actor, and Mr. Osric.
Mad Cat Theatre presents its original production of The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show at the Miami Light Project at the Goldman Warehouse through August 12, 2012.

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