For everyone who’s ever said, “Wouldn’t it be great if Shakespeare didn’t have all that Elizabethan English and iambic pentameter?”, Sacred Fools has concocted the perfect solution.  Hamlet Shut Up is the world famous action/ghost/lust/revenge/murder-packed tale of the Prince Of Denmark unsullied by the spoken word—and what a brilliantly conceived and executed concoction it is!

Aside from interjections (“Hey!”, “Ow!”, “Yar!”) which the ground rules of Hamlet Shut Up appear to permit, just about the last words you’ll hear once the show gets started are the opening announcements—given by cast members in Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Grand Opera, American Sign Language, and Monkey—and in case you didn’t understand a word of any of this amidst the cacophony, the announcements are repeated, hilariously, in pantomime.

Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark, and in case you didn’t know that, Hamlet dumps trash into a waste paper basket labeled Denmark, the first of countless sight gags Hamlet Shut Up has up its sleeve.  An upstage TV screen then projects the word “Flashback,” and we are on a journey back in time to witness a weeping Queen Gertrude (Kimberly Atkinson) torn between two men grabbing (literally) for the recently deceased King’s crown, a fight which soon turns into a tug of war between the rightful heir to the throne, Gertrude’s son Hamlet (Derek Mehn), and the late King’s brother Claudius (Stephen Simon). (Shakespeare aficionados know who wins.)

We next meet the ghost of Hamlet’s slain father (a bearded mask carried atop a broomstick by a black hooded figure) as an offstage Josh Senick on piano plays the theme from “Ghostbusters.” Cut to the royal breakfast nook where a drunken Gertrude (“How Dry I Am” follows her as a running music gag) sits beside a sobbing Hamlet. Following a breath-holding contest between Hamlet and Claudius, the new King and his Queen begin making out passionately in full sight of the assembled diners, which also include Polonius (Jay Bogdanowitsch), his two offspring (Laertes [Matt Valle] and Ophelia [Tegan Ashton Cohan]), and assorted shocked courtiers.

Their Majesties attempt to cheer Hamlet up, first with a game of catch, then with at attempt a bribery (keys to his own car), and finally with a safe sex lesson employing banana and condom. There’s an amusement park flashback recalling the night when Hamlet won Ophelia a furry stuffed-animal friend at a tossing booth and their love was new.  Laertes then gets a French lesson (nasal grunts taking the place of actual vocabulary). Next up, another flashback, and this time, Hamlet’s dad has a body, though not one attached to his head.

Hamlet Shut Up is highlighted by more examples of wordless hilarity than can possibly be listed here, but these outrageous moments include:
•Hamlet’s attempt to convince Ophelia that he’s mad, which she then repeats in mime to her father, which he then relates to the King, all without saying a word
•Hamlet’s many failed suicide tries, including a great sight gag with a pair of nooses
•auditions for The Players who will enact Hamlet’s playlet about his father’s murder
•a borderline incestuous scene between Hamlet and his Mom
•a kidnapped Hamlet on the bounding main handcuffed to a pair of ruffians
•a flashback to the time of “Poor Yorick,” that “man of infinite jest”
•a DVD tribute to the late Ophelia Lipchitz (What? You didn’t know her last name?) 

Hamlet Shut Up is jam-packed with sight gags, among them:
•Hamlet and Horatio’s outrageously complicated secret handshake
•a “Revenge-O-Meter,” which shows the degree of success of Hamlet’s plans to avenge his father’s death, accompanied by fanfare on the kazoo
•“To be or not to be” in mime (check out the above photo)
•a human Xerox machine
•that trademark 20th Century Fox pre-credits opening recreated in pantomime, searchlights and all
•simulated projectile vomit—and because every great sight gag deserves repeating, still more simulated projectile vomit

Among the hit songs and TV/movie themes that make their way into Hamlet Shut Up at opportune moments are “Suicide Is Painless” (from MASH), the theme from The Exorcist, “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler On The Roof, “Unchained Melody,” sung, words and all, by Laertes, “What Can You Do With A Drunken Sailor?”, the theme from Jeopardy, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” from The Sting, and “Send In The Clowns,” all performed with perfect timing by pianist Senick.

To give away anything more would spoil Hamlet Shut Up’s countless surprises. Suffice it to say, there’s a laugh just about every ten seconds or so, and who knows how much I missed while jotting down my notes?

The cast is composed of one superb actor/physical comedian after another.  In addition to those already mentioned, Victor Isaac (Horatio), Colin Wilkie (Bernardo), Adina Valerio (Marcellus) and Laura Napoli (Francisco) do bang-up jobs, several in multiple roles. These gifted performers could easily take first place in any competition for Best Mime Ensemble of 2009, and in addition to bringing their diverse roles to unspoken life, the “Entire Cast” is credited for adapting director Jonas Oppenheim’s uproarious script.  (Memo to Sacred Fools:  Please join the vast majority of L.A. theater companies by including cast headshots in your program.)

Aaron Francis’ set design is simple but ingenious. A series of long chests are arranged upstage in a row, each of which can be pulled out and converted into whatever furniture is needed for each scene, and each cabinet holds inside whatever props will be used in that scene. Francis has also designed the production’s effective lighting. Wesley Crain gets high marks for his costumes, a cross between traditional Elizabethan and off-the-wall fanciful. Jaime Rebeldo’s sound design incorporates a bunch of funny sound gags to accompany the visual ones. Prop crew Marz Richards and Aileen Marie Scott are kept busy moving set pieces with the rest of the cast.

For anyone unfamiliar with the twists and turns of Hamlet’s tale, writer/director/genius Oppenheim has provided a handy synopsis inserted into the program. Take five minutes to read it before the show starts and you’ll enjoy Hamlet Shut Up that much more, however even without knowing Shakespeare’s plot, you are guaranteed laughs galore.  There’s never been a Hamlet quite like Hamlet Shut Up, and that alone makes it a must-see for Shakespeare lover—and haters—alike.

Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood. 

–Steven Stanley
November 20, 2009

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