The Fall of a Sparrow, Footsteps Theatre Company. Conceived by director Jean Adamak and developed by the Footsteps ensemble, The Fall of a Sparrow takes the company’s renowned cross-gender casting a step further. In their contemporary parallel to Hamlet, Rylan is a young woman who’s sunk into a depression following her mother’s death and become obsessed with Hamlet, whose text provides her only utterance. This habit has begun to irritate her father and stepmother, especially since Rylan identifies them with Gertrude and Claudius. (“Father!” she hisses. “You have my mother much offended!”) Their efforts to comfort the melancholy young woman only make her more withdrawn, until her distraught mind plays out the story to its bloody end.

Unfortunately, too many cooks have made for an uneven stew. Some of the devices–the movie by which Hamlet catches the conscience of Queen Claudius, for example–support the play’s concept, but others remain enigmatic, particularly the physical symbolism suddenly introduced in the final scenes: Gertrude’s hands are literally tied, Laertes dons war paint for his duel with Hamlet. Despite a riveting performance by the amazing Anastasia Basil as Rylan/Hamlet, this is a courageous but incomplete experiment, better at easing us out of our world and into Shakespeare’s than at bringing us back again. Sometimes “enterprises of great pith and moment…their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.” This may be one of them.

–Mary Shen Barnidge