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    Pruned Danish

    "Hamlet" gets cut up and reassembled so that the Claudius is the hero of Denmark and Hamlet is a dangerous head case in "Helsinor."


    "Helsinor" is an adaptation of "Hamlet" with evil Uncle Claudius as the hero. Although set in Shakespeare's Denmark, the language and characterizations are distinctly modern. Gertrude, admitting to a surprised Claudius that she knew he killed her husband, says: "I didn't just fall off a turnip truck." Ophelia's facial and vocal expressions are those of a truculent high school student. Written by Todd Alcott — best known as the screenwriter of "Antz" — in the style of terse movie dialogue, the script makes no attempt at poetry, and perhaps that is the point.

    Written and directed by: Todd Alcott.
    Cast: James Urbaniak, Adrian Latourelle, Sheri Graubert, Chuck Montgomery, Steven Rattazzi, Sean Runnette.
    Present Company Theatorium
    198 Stanton Street
    Sept. 5-29, 2001

    The play opens with an address from Claudius bemoaning the state of his brother's kingdom and moves into a cabinet meeting with a very aged king who, instead of solving his nation's problems, regales his cabinet with bad jokes. Played well by James Urbaniak, Alcott's piggish king (Hamlet's father) is at first intriguing but quickly disintegrates into an absurd parody as the king begins chatting with a green sock puppet named "Froggy" whom he manipulates from under his robe. Claudius and Gertrude are shown to be having an affair before the king's death; Gertrude seeking comfort from the unspeakable acts "Froggy" has committed in the bedroom, sensitive Claudius promising to nurture her love of books.

    Alcott, who also adapted "Merchant of Venice," shortens the script to an hour and a half by cutting such characters as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Laertes. Horatio, the great symbol of true friendship in literature, here becomes false as he takes over the actions of the perfidious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Almost everyone still ends up dead, but Ophelia, clearly a budding feminist influenced by Lorena Bobbitt, doesn't perish in the traditional delicate suicide. She takes on Laertes' role in seeking vengeance for their dead father.

    James Urbaniak plays Hamlet as a brooding serial killer intent on winning back his father's throne. For all his bitching, Claudius, played by Chuck Montgomery, is unable to rejuvenate the kingdom and his incessant attempts at moral justification are even more insipid in this version than in the original. A beautifully staged moment is Claudius' capture by a magnificently tall and perfectly costumed Fortinbras, played by Sean Runette.

    Not unlike a staged adaptation of the Hamlet Cliff notes, this production is successful as a clever rethinking of the psychology of this famous royal family but less interesting when it becomes the typical, goofy parody.

    SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

    Reader comments on Helsinor:

  • Map of Helsinor   from Lars Nielsen, Dec 26, 2005

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