Cast: Joseph Beck, Morgan Peter Brown, Chris Cope, Kelly Grete Ehlert, Christel Joy Johnson, Diann Marchlewski, Konima Parkinson-Jones, John Rocha, Scot Shamblin and Atim Udoffia
LA TIMES (Philip Brandes)
There are more things in “Hamlet” thank are dreamt of in conventional staging philosophy, as the Outlaw Style Thrance Company demonstrates in its offbeat rendition of “Hamlet, a Tragic Thrance.” Director-Choreographer Jessica Schroeder coined the company’s name to represent not only its signature commingling of theater and dance but also the frenetic intensity and alternate reality of its performances-qualities that enliven Shakespeare’s classic drama of psychological angst and social upheaval, though not without some friction. That the traditionally indecisive and introverted Nordic prince is portrayed by a gutsy, leather-clad black woman (Atim Udoffia) is the least of the production’s surprises, given Schroeder’s penchant for casting against type and gender. Frailty thy name is anything but woman here, as Udoffia gives physical voice to Hamlet’s range, frustration and grief in a series of muscular numbers set to the music of Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple and other rockers. (Contrasting musical interludes use the more contemplative compositions of Oliver Messiaen). Udoffia’s similarly gender bent nemesis is Hamlet’s usurping aunt Claudia (Konema Parkinson-Jones); the physical resemblance between them suggesting their characters are fellow outcasts with more in common than either of them would care to acknowledge. The sex-reversal conceit is bound to give genealogists fits, however. To capture the throne, the nefarious Claudia has murdered Hamlet’s father (Scot Shamblin) and married his royal consort, Duke Gerard (Joseph Beck), who is- stay with me here-also Hamlet’s father. This preserves Hamlet’s opposite sex dynamic with the surviving parent, but it’s a genetic improbability to say the least. A pox on cloning, if this conundrum be the result. The supporting cast, pared to 10 characters, takes this quirky universe in stride-capably handling choreography focused more on dramatic expression the acrobatics. They are less adept with the language-only Peter Morgan Brown’s witty Polonius navigates the scansion with ease. Unfortunately, Schroeder’s adaptation often lacks the courage of its convictions, retaining lengthy passages of the text where a few carefully chosen phrases would be sufficient to set the scene. This overly respectful approach doesn’t play to her performer’s strengths and marginalizes the truly innovative aspect of the production.
LA WEEKLY (Martin Hernandez)
In Outlaw Style Thrance Company’s approach to the Shakespeare classic, Elsinore is a world devoid of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation, a noble endeavor. On the other hand, as envisioned by director-choreographer Jessica Schroeder, the production also utilizes “thrance”-a combination of theater and dance-to move the story along, which tends to severely muddle an already severely truncated text. In this version, Hamlet (AtimUdoffia) is a Danish princess instead of a prince and is the offspring of her recently murdered father, King Hamlet(Scot Shamblin), and his husband, the Duke Gerard (Joseph Beck), rather than King Hamlet and Queen Gertrude. And it is the king’s sister, Claudio (Konema Parkinson-Jones) whom Gerard weds, a premature move in Hamlet’s eyes that exacerbates her already fragile psyche. At times the thrance concept is engaging, such as when Hamlet fendsoff her lover, Ophelia (Kelly Grete Ehlert), to the strains of Elvis Cotello’s “The Name of This Thing is Not Love.” But mostly the dance movements, which are well-executed, are superfluous, as in Polonius’ (Morgan Peter Brown) sly mover on Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.”
BACKSTAGE WEST (Hoyt Hilsman)
The Outlaw Style Thrance Company has made its reputation by presenting shows that are a wonderful hybrid of dance and theater-humorous and even provocative combinations of the two. Jessica Schroeder, founder and choreographer of the company has brought an eclectic group of dancers and actors into the mix. The magic of the company is that is mingles terrific dancers who can act a little and terrific actors who can dance a bit, or barley at all. This makes for a combustible concoction of styles and tones depending on the production. In the case of this show, a dance-theatre version of Hamlet, the mixture is decidedly out of balance. To put is bluntly, this version requires too much acting and too little dancing, and most of the company members are simply not up to the task. The tale of the Prince of Denmark is arguably one of the most difficult Shakespeare plays to stage effectively, and Atim Udoffia, who stars as Hamlet in the transgender version, does a credible job of acting and dancing. Morgan Peter Brown has a wonderful turn as Polonius, and John Rocha is solid as Laertes. The rest of the ensemble, however, though offering evocative interpretation in dance, isn’t up to the snuff in the acting department. What worked so well in other Thrance productions is the undoing here. Schroeder has trimmed the play somewhat and has chosen an interesting score-ranging from Elvis Costello to the specials-but the piece is mostly talk and runes nearly two and a half hours, far too long for a production of this type. In addition, the small stage greatly inhibits the choreographer and the dancers. While this production is an ambitious effort, it reaches beyond the core competences of the ensemble and sidesteps the unique vision of the company.