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BWW Review: Annette O'Toole Sublime in Michael Laurence's HAMLET IN BED

Annette O'Toole and Michael Laurence (Photo: Tristan Fuge)

Director Lisa Peterson has crafted a wonderfully bleak and tense production from playwright Michael Laurence's improbable psychological drama, HAMLET IN BED. The 90-minute two-hander inhabiting the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is packed with some striking visuals and terrific acting, but the text itself fails to generate enough heat to match its attention-grabbing premise.

Laurence himself plays a character named Michael; an actor on the verge of turning 40 with two obsessions in life; to play Hamlet and to find his birth mother.

By happy coincidence he comes across the diary of an actress that contains information leading him to believe that she could be his mother. It also contains her address, and, since she still lives there, finding and stalking her is a cinch.

The highlight of the evening is Annette O'Toole's sublime performance as Anna, who has given up her stage ambitions for the security of being a corporate cog and spends her nights touring the city's barstools. She's a woman hardened by disappointment, but she melts at the opportunity to gain back a bit of her youthful optimism and get her creative juices flowing again when Michael offers her an opportunity to play Gertrude against his Hamlet for a production that, naturally, doesn't really exist.

Michael Laurence and Annette O'Toole (Photo: Tristan Fuge)

The bulk of the play alternates between Michael's storytelling soliloquies, told into a microphone like a dive bar spoken word performance, and rehearsals of Shakespeare's mother/son bedchamber scene, where Hamlet violently accuses Gertrude of betraying his father, played out on a stack of mattresses.

Laurence's performance strikes the right sinister and sexy chords, but his text gets muddy after the setup. Perhaps he's drawing parallels between Hamlet's feigned madness and his character's actual madness, but what exactly Michael is trying to accomplish with his elaborate charade, and why Anna is so willing to indulge in this suspicious situation, is never clear. By the time Michael quips to the audience that his misuse of a word was a "Freudian slip, like this whole play," you may be ready to agree with him.

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From This Author Michael Dale