SKINHEAD HAMLET and
THE CASE OF THE DANISH PRINCE
Griffin Theatre Company
Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays. But his output is minuscule compared with the number of takeoffs and put-ons his plays have inspired. We have a biker Hamlet and a Midsummer Night’s Dream danced naked. We have humor ranging from the Borscht Belt (“Oy, Hamlet, vot are you doing to your mother, you meshuggener?”) to the political (“I, King Lear, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States”) to the bored and geriatric (“Tomorrow and tomorrow and . . . aah, the hell with it”). There’s I Hate Hamlet and Dogg’s Hamlet and Hamlet II. (I have in mind my own parody, in which Shakespeare’s ghost would come back to wreak vengeance on all the would-be humorists who have raped and pillaged his work.)
As Shakespeare parodies go, Griffin Theatre Company’s The Case of the Danish Prince and Skinhead Hamlet are relatively amusing if not sidesplitting or awe-inspiring representatives. Griffin Theatre, one of the most ambitious and talented companies in town, aims pretty low with these short plays and hits its marks a good deal of the time.
Miles Kington’s The Case of the Danish Prince is a silly little romp through Sherlock Holmes’s office in which the master sleuth and his bumbling assistant and diarist Dr. Watson are called upon to investigate the death of Hamlet’s father. The clever premise provides ample opportunity for music-hall hamming and mugging from the eager Griffin cast. But Kington ignores the opportunities for super-shamus Sherlock to investigate Shakespeare’s text or deduce much information from Hamlet’s dizzying plot twists. Instead he sticks to cheap gags, stale drag humor, and the occasional anachronism joke. The play ends rather abruptly when Holmes finally arrives on the scene in Denmark, and any real opportunity for questioning the characters or deductive reasoning is tossed out the window.
Richard Curtis’s Skinhead Hamlet begins more promisingly with a hilarious music video but soon degenerates into a single crass joke. As the title indicates, this Hamlet is set in a skinhead bar and features black leather and profanity. Skinhead Hamlet is a kind of Reader’s Digest condensed version of the play as told by Sid Vicious. (It brought to mind a high school classmate’s summary of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf: “That Wolf Larsen was a bad dude. Didn’t do nothing ‘cept whoop on his mates.”)
In Skinhead Hamlet Curtis pares every scene down to one or two lines that use the word “fuck.” “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” becomes something like “Don’t get fucked over.” “To be or not to be” becomes “To fuck or be fucked.” After a little while the joke gets old; audience members are reduced to trying to figure out how the word “fuck” will be used in the next scene. At least Curtis spares us “Something is fucked in the state of Denmark.”
Director G. Scott Thomas does an amazingly professional job with this piece, eliciting a wonderful performance from each member of the cast. But how well you like this play will depend a great deal on your tolerance for fuck jokes and for the sound track of the Clash’s Combat Rock, which allows Joe Strummer and Mick Jones to say more than any member of the Griffin cast.