BWW Review: Bond Meets the Bard at Vaquero Playground
From Denmark With Love
Written by John J. King, Directed by Barlow Adamson; Costume Design, Cara Pacifico; Sound Design, J Jumbelic; Set Design, John J. King; Prop Design, Lori Lapomardo; Lighting Design, Michael Clark Wonson; Production Stage Manager, Deirdre Benson; Rehearsal Stage Manager, Erin Baglole; Bad Ass Mama (Fight Director), Angel Aguilar Veza
CAST: Daniel Jones (Hamlet, Claudius), Terrence Patrick Haddad (Fortinbras, Jr., Laertes), Bridgette Hayes (Ophelia), Brett Milanowski (Fortinbras, Sr., Polonius), Janelle Mills (Gertrude), Bob Mussett (King Hamlet, Horatio), Chelsea Schmidt (Goldie Stern)
Performances through June 1 by Vaquero Playground at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA; Tickets: www.vaqueroplayground.com
John J. King is the Managing Artistic Director and Senior Mirth Strategist for Vaquero Playground, one of the new theater companies on the block that promises to keep all ticket prices under ten dollars and less than five dollars for students. King is a multi-hyphenated guy with experience as a director, producer, set designer, musician, and painter. And, oh, by the way, he happens to be the playwright of From Denmark With Love, subtitled as "A 007/Hamlet Comedy Mash-up!" Believe it or not, it's not as strange as it sounds.
Although at times difficult to keep pace with King's imagination and follow every aspect of the story, if you know your James Bond films and the crux of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, then From Denmark With Love may be your poison. The friendly opening night audience was constantly amused by the dialogue, numerous references to Bond film titles, the sight gags, and the over-the-top mugging of the ensemble. Owing to his abundance of leading man good looks, Daniel Jones plays both the protagonist Hamlet (with a Sean Connery brogue) and the antagonist Claudius (à la Arnold Schwarzenegger). His energy never flags as he repeatedly exits and enters as one or the other, sometimes getting a reprieve when he merely voices the character from the wings. You haven't seen such a quick change artist since Clark Kent became Superman.
Also performing vigorous double duty is Bob Mussett as the soon-to-be-departed King Hamlet and the prince's friend Horatio. In the latter role, he devises weapons and means of transport to help Hamlet/00Syv take on his enemy and avenge his father's death. Joining them is young Ophelia (Bridgette Hayes), one of two Bond girls who, along with Goldie Stern (Chelsea Schmidt), provide the romance for the debonair prince. Of course, there is also the unseemly relationship between Hamlet and his mother Gertrude that Jones and Janelle Mills play for all it's worth. She does a great job of trying to balance her loyalties between her son and Claudius, but pays the ultimate price, nonetheless. Brett Milanowski and Terrence Patrick Haddad play father and son duos the Fortinbras from Norway, as well as Danes Polonius and Laertes, respectively. Their brogues and comic skills are crisp, and they both look manly in kilts.
It is up to Director Barlow Adamson to sort out the madness and keep the mash-up from turning to mush. With the multitude of entrances and exits, From Denmark has a farcical quality, but the physical shtick all goes like clockwork. In particular, the fights are very well staged by Angel Aguilar Veza, and the death scenes are trés dramatique. However, the play lacks nuance, with nearly every verbal pitch thrown at the same high rate of speed, as if challenging the audience to be sufficiently alert to catch the jokes. An onslaught of double takes and double entendres in the high double figures does not result in double the pleasure. Alas, brevity is the soul of wit.
King's clever brand of humor gets buried under its own weight in the script, but shines through in other areas of the production with judicious use of cinema for the opening credits and some puppetry and shadow dancing behind a sheet hung above the stage. At the end of the show, he unabashedly paraded toward the footlights in a toga and invited the audience to follow his lead and dance in the aisles. Even if King the playwright has some work to do, he deserves a bonus as Senior Mirth Strategist.
Photo credit: Omar Robinson (Brett Milanowski, Janelle Mills, Daniel Jones)