BWW Reviews: Hidden Room's DER BESTRAFTE BRUDERMORD Gives Austin a Comedic HAMLET With Puppets!
To all at The Hidden Room, I hope you know that you've accomplished the impossible. You've made me like Hamlet. I know there are millions out there who consider Hamlet to be the greatest tragedy of all time, but I on the other hand consider the act of viewing Hamlet to be the real tragedy. Honestly, if I wanted to watch three hours of an unsympathetic, indecisive whiner hem and haw over decisions that will affect their entire country, I'd turn on C-SPAN and watch an entire Congress do their best imitation of Shakespeare's infamous Prince of Denmark.
Thankfully, der Bestrafte Brudermord isn't whiney, long, or dull like its source material. Instead, this brisk, energetic, and remarkably funny show succeeds both as a wild piece of theater and a unique lesson in theater history.
The entire production is inspired by research from Professor Tiffany Stern of Oxford University, a brilliant scholar and friend of Hidden Room's Artistic Director, Beth Burns. A prolific expert of Early Modern Theatre, Professor Stern suggests that der Bestrafte Brudermord, an anonymous German adaption of Hamlet which dates back to 1710, may have been written as a puppet show. As Professor Stern explained in a special post-show Q&A on opening night, traveling theater companies in the 1600s and 1700s often had problems maintaining their number of performers. As they'd travel from village to village, members would marry townspeople and would abandon the troupe. Other members would die. Eventually, the company of actors would be too small to perform certain plays, and they'd resort to using puppets. Sometimes they'd perform existing plays with puppets, and sometimes they'd create new ones specifically for puppets.
Professor Stern's research on puppet theater of the 1700s informs ever bit of the piece. From information and evidence collected through posters, engravings, and other documents, The Hidden Room has created an aesthetic and overall experience that is as accurate and authentic as possible. The small puppet stage has an ornate, classic style and is full of gilded details. The puppets, designed by Jennifer Rose Davis, are equally beautiful and detailed. Each features gorgeous period costumes, and puppeteers Joseph Garlock, Ryan Hamilton, Jeff Mills, and Kim Adams give each puppet a personality and an incredibly human gift for comedic timing. Claudius's habitual hair tossing is a particularly amusing running gag.
The personalities of the puppets and their characters are certainly enhanced by narrators Judd Farris and Jason Newman. Dressed in period costumes and slightly exaggerated wigs, Farris and Newman voice all of the characters. The two gifted comedians often give the characters campy and melodramatic voices and inflated accents which greatly adds to the farcical tone. Their improvised interaction with the audience between scenes is great fun as well.
Der Bestrafte Brudermord will definitely make you reconsider Denmark's favorite son. Do I now consider Hamlet to be Shakespeare's greatest tragedy? No, but when presented like this, it might be his greatest comedy.
Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, no intermission.
DER BESTRAFTE BRUDERMORD, produced by The Hidden Room, plays the York Rite Masonic Hall at 311 W. 7th St, Austin 78701 now thru February 8th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm with an additional performance on Monday, 1/27 at 8pm. Tickets are $15-$30. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.hiddenroomtheatre.com/