BWW Reviews: Clever Confusion in DOGG'S HAMLET AND CAHOOT'S MACBETH from Sound Theatre Company
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, you practically have to take a masters class in whatever Tom Stoppard is writing about in order to fully get his plays. Whether is be Shakespeare, Czech History or Mathematics it helps to have some kind of advance knowledge before you sit down. Having said that, while "Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth" definitely had me saying "Huh?" a few times, what it amounts to is a clever, funny and engaging look at language and power.
Typically done together (although I cannot imagine them making as much sense apart), these two plays by Stoppard explore what it is to be understood through language. In "Dogg's Hamlet" we're in a boy's Preparatory school in the UK in 1978. But the folks in this school speak a language known as Dogg that utilizes ordinary English words but assigns completely different meanings to them. The boys (Fox Rain Matthews, Matt Fulbright, Noah Duffy and Corey Spruill) are putting up an abridged version of Hamlet, which is in a foreign language to them, English. Enter the character Easy (Luke S. Walker) who just wants to deliver some building supplies for the stage but finds himself unable to communicate with the lads. Sound confusing? Well, it is. But if you pay attention you'll be able to glom onto a little of the language and understand exactly what they're trying to say. Then in "Cahoot's Macbeth", a troupe of persecuted actors are trying to perform a production of the Scottish play in a living room in communist Czechoslovakia in 1978 but the head of the secret police (Robert Hinds) bursts in to stop their "subversive actions". All seems lost until Easy shows up again now speaking Dogg that the actors all pick up on but completely confounds the police. As I said, I ended Act One somewhat confused. Not only from the language but why this story was necessary. But it feeds nicely into Act Two and only illuminates the lack or abundance of understanding of people for each other depending on their perspective.
The play does get a little convoluted at times but the wonderful ensemble cast does their best to keep the chaos at bay or at least controlled. Matthews, Fulbright, Duffy and Walker pull off some insanely fun physical comedy in Act One (only to repeat and intensify it with everyone in Act Two). Walker especially displays some uproariously fun comedic timing with his bewildered deliveryman. And Duffy couldn't be more charming as the little schoolboy playing all the women of "Hamlet". Fulbright also turns in a stunning Macbeth in the play within the play in Act Two along with an extremely powerful Lady Macbeth from Elinor Gunn. And Hinds' Inspector couldn't be more deliciously evil as he chides and cajoles his way through the members of this band of "troublemakers".
Like most of Stoppard's plays, these definitely require some work on the part of the audience but also like most of his plays, that work pays off in the end.
"Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth" from Sound Theatre Company performs at the Center Theatre through June 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.soundtheatrecompany.org.
Photo credit: Ken Holmes