If you have any reverence for Shakespeare’s “greatest work,” you’re discouraged from attending this performance by it’s own show brief. Luckily, my reverence impulse leads inevitably to an irreverent impulse, because I believe irreverence can be one of the highest forms of praise. In any event, this show by turns mocks, in an explicit attempt to question its relevance, and parallels, in an implicit attempt to undermine it own argument, The Danish Play.

The script of this show is quite clever, and clips along with the frenzied pace necessary to ridicule the absurdities of Shakespeare’s longest play inside of an hour. Penned as it was by veteran playwright Lorne Elliott, this much is to be expected. It’s a high-energy piece that drew a good number of laughs. Unfortunately, the humour doesn’t aim at anything deeper than the surface, and truly the primary target for its ridicule is the long-dead bard himself, with ivory-tower academics and institutions coming in a close second.

Ostensibly, the play is a keynote address delivered at a conference of Shakespeare Scholars by the main character, played by Rick Cousins. The Professor, once he takes the stage for his address and no one can stop him, takes the audience hostage for a vitriolic rant about how crappy and foolish the play Hamlet is, and how it is irrelevant to contemporary audiences. This discussion crumbles into an exposé, revealing the deep personal attack that the Professor feels has been done to him, and the corruption of his academic institution.

Cousins, as the Professor, takes on the myriad roles in the Jacobean tragedy as he pulls them apart for their comedic value. This is a tricky balance to strike, because the Professor character is framed as a rather inept scholar, and unpopular guy in general. In fact, he has been chosen to deliver the address in question because of his ineptitude. Playing a character who is supposed to be a bad actor, and a boring orator is one of the hardest jobs you can find, because while it’s easy to be a bad actor or speak badly, its very hard to convey that impression while maintaining the audience’s engagement with what you’re saying. So, I’m not sure exactly from where in the performer/character spectrum the problem originates, but the argument delivered by the Professor did nothing to convince me or, more importantly, make me care about the story he was telling. For me, this made the Professor’s emotional intensity at the conclusion hard to understand, and moreover, a touch unbelievable.

The point this text is striving to make is an important one; namely, that Hamlet is a monumentally brilliant human achievement that maintains its relevance in our contemporary society, and that cutting works like it from English and Theatre departments in favour of the vested interest of publishing houses that provided excerpted editions is a crime against future generations of critical thinkers. Unfortunately, this particular vehicle for making that argument felt uninspired, and a bit out of touch. Certainly, we should keep reading unabridged Shakespeare in humanities departments, but there are more pressing issues that deserve our moral outrage, creative effort, and the attention of future generations of educated humans.

A Better Play Than Hamlet

Written by Lorne Elliott

Performed by Rick Cousins

Produced by Turtle Pond Theatre Productions (Hudson, Qc)

Academic Hall
Friday, June 16 9:00pm
Sunday, June 18 6:00pm

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