Since it is inherent in any zombie scenario that the nasty undead creatures have more or less taken over the world, then I suppose it follows that there is no classic literature or historical period that can be truly exempt from the specter of zombie apocalypse adaptation. Jane Austen has been given such treatment, and now William Shakespeare has been infected.
Shakespeare gets messed about fairly often, typically by changing the setting, but playwright Qui Nguyen uses famous characters from several of the immortal Bard’s plays in a unique take on the zombie dynamic that forsakes many of the clichés we associate with horror film zombies. His version of the flesh-eating creatures seem more like vampires in that they are undead who exist in a fashion similar enough to the living that it is possible that some of the characters are slow to realize that they are, in fact, deceased.
The setting is Denmark, in and around Elsinore, five years after the events depicted in Hamlet. A triumvirate of Ophelia, Juliet and Lady Macbeth encounter Fortinbras, who is forming a resistance to the zombie hordes who seem to have the upper hand. Many vigorous and well-staged scenes of combat dominate the action, but the script is surprisingly clever and ingenious in establishing a larger conflict between ordinary humans and the supernatural characters from Shakespeare, so that Titania, Oberon, Puck and Caliban are allied with the undead in a power struggle with a mysterious cloaked figure. That there is genuine mystery to be found in a story using such familiar characters and settings is a testament to the quality of the text.
I do wish the spare production design had been slightly more fleshed out. It is material that seems designed to spark an enterprising designer’s imagination, but it seems churlish to focus on such limitations when the playing is this good. The action is led by a lost and searching Ophelia, played with sexy charm by Madeleine Dee in a lacy black dress that challenges some of her more dynamic fighting moves. As her companions, Lady Macbeth and Juliet, April Singer brings edge and bravado to the former, while Chelsea Skalski carefully essays an awkward and introverted version of the latter. Both are kick-ass fighters. Scott Goodman and Chris Petty prove adept utility men in multiple roles, including a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unlike any you’ve ever witnessed in any production of either Hamlet or the Tom Stoppard classic. It should also be noted that Mr. Goodman knows how to play a death scene.
Ben Unwin is a fetching Titania in a green gown set off by a red wig, and Joey Arena makes for a good and villainous Fortinbras. Director Tony Smith does double duty as Horatio, a stalwart good guy performance that is probably the least interesting character overall. And Todd Zeigler is Hamlet in a very good performance that, due to the machinations of the plot, is difficult to discuss without giving something away. Suffice it to say that his work not only holds the center but lifts the level of performance in an important way that helps a good production become something more.
Although there is some effective music, I also would not have minded hearing a more active score that tended toward hard, edgy rock played loudly. This is material that calls for a high energy presentation and, as good as it is, could have been that much better with a little harder push. Yet, it is important to remember that this sort of show is a specialty of The Alley Theater and cannot be found on any other local stage.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner