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Review: 'Elsinore County'

by Photo of Paul Hansen

‘Dynasty’ meets ‘Hamlet’ in ‘Elsinore County.’

Review: 'Elsinore County'

In this article…

Gonzalo Trigueros and Sara Antkowiak in Elsinore County. Photo Credit: Gary Schwartz

"To be or not to be" may be the most famous line ever uttered from the stage. The well known text receives an interesting new twist in Elsinore County, a parody of Hamlet which opened this week off-Broadway. Written and directed by Antony Raymond, Elsinore County re-imagines Hamlet as if it were a TV drama produced by the late Aaron Spelling whose hits included Dynasty, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210.

Set in the present day, Elsinore County follows the basic plot of Shakespeare's original play. Young Hamlet suspects that his stepfather and uncle, Claudius, has murdered his father in order to gain control of Elsinore. Hamlet is also upset that his mother, Gertrude, has married Claudius only two months after his father's death. In addition, Hamlet is in the midst of an on-again off-again romance with Ophelia whose father is the meddlesome Polonius, counselor to Claudius.

Playwright Raymond has taken a few liberties with the original plot. Hamlet's boyhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been combined into Rosenstern, a seductive female college professor of Hamlet's. There is also an interesting plot twist at the end of the play which may jolt audience members accustomed to traditional performances of Hamlet.

Although the premise of the play is Hamlet as retold by Aaron Spelling Productions, much of Elsinore County has the air of a satire by Mel Brooks. There is a confrontation between Polonius and Hamlet which seems like it could have been scripted and directed by Brooks himself.

The comic update shifts the original text of Hamlet into the modern vernacular. Lines like, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world" are transformed into text such as "I don't like anything." The premise of "translating" Shakespeare into everyday English isn't exactly new, as there are editions of the Bard which put his text side by side with a modern rendition. While altering Shakespeare's text in general should be discouraged, "modernizing" the language within the context of a satire can create a funny comedic effect as it does in Elsinore County.

Although Elsinore is basically a comedy, the dark brooding element of the original Hamlet is still there, with its existential angst, its meditations on the corrupt pursuit of power, and the barely contained sensuality of many of its characters. Gonzalo Trigueros as Hamlet is a convincing anchor to the play, creating a brooding persona despite all of the comic energy around him. Benjamin Bauman as Claudius recalls the blunt and relentlessly grasping aspects of Gordon Gekko. Nick Hetherington perfectly personifies Polonius' eccentric, self-important officiousness. It would be rewarding to see Hetherington also play Polonius with a traditional script.

The three strong female leads are Catherine Cobb Ryan (Gertrude), Sara Antkowiak (Rosenstern) and J.J. Pyle (Ophelia). Their portrayals are all colorful with Ryan's and Antkowiak's performances in particular recalling the brashness of Joan Collins on Dynasty. The supporting cast members are also very strong. Their rendition of the "play within a play" episode is probably the funniest scene of the whole evening. 

Even Shakespeare purists should enjoy Elsinore County. Satire, like imitation, is a form of flattery since satire is only effective if the material being parodied is memorable.

Elsinore County has been extended to July 13 which will give audiences a few extra performances to enjoy this very funny show. Tickets are relatively inexpensive at $19.25. There was a steady stream of laughter at the performance which I attended. Somehow I suspect that if Shakespeare were around to see it he would be amused by the ribald production as well.

Elsinore County is playing at The Lion Theatre at Theatro Row located at 410 W. 42nd Street.

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