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Paulanne Simmons

“Puppet Hamlet” Shows Great Promise for New Company

Puppet Hamlet
Directed by A.J. Cote and Ashley Kelly Tata
Gene Frankel Theater
24 Bond Street
July 5 - July 16, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 14, 2012

Is it a kids’ show? A show for adults? The Puppet Shakespeare Players “Puppet Hamlet” is both. Directed by A.J. Cote and Ashley Kelly Tata, and featuring a cast of talented actors and puppeteers manipulating a variety of puppets, the show manages to combine farce, burlesque and tragedy in a most entertaining and original way.

In this production, puppets take the stage alongside actors (think “Avenue Q”). Thus Hamlet is played by Adam Weppler, a talented actor who has happily emphasized the youth and vigor of the hero over his melancholy and indecision. The pompous buffoon, Polonius, is a puppet (who looks something like a walrus in glasses) manipulated by two people and voiced by Ross Hamman.

Rosencrantz (A.J. Cote) and Guildenstern (Shane Snider) are particularly delightful sycophants whose antics delight both adults and children. And the Ghost (Hamman) appears accompanied by eerie visual effects that are reminiscent of funhouse rides.

The play-within-a play Hamlet has devised to reveal his uncle’s guilt becomes a puppet show-within-a-puppet show, with Hamlet as the puppeteer, manipulating sock puppets. The play does its job, however, when
Claudius (Michael Miller) flees in fright.

The Puppet Shakespeare Players have used primarily Shakespeare’s text, somewhat cut, with occasional modern updates in both language and references. For instance, George Clooney is cited as a superb actor. The actors (and puppets) also thump chests and high-five each other.

But somehow, in the end, when Horatio (Cory Asinofsky) holds his slain friend and pronounces his famous last lines, the play flowers in all its tragic intensity. Indeed, in many ways this play seems to capture the essence of Shakespeare far better than more traditional productions.

Over time, Shakespeare has become something of a sacred cow. Even shows that change the setting or the time of his plays seldom deviate in any really meaningful or innovative way, and those who try to earn directorial stripes by original interpretations do so at their own risk.

But The Puppet Shakespeare Players have been able to get to the heart of Shakespeare in all his bawdiness, silliness and tragedy. What’s more, this is only the company’s second season. The best may be yet to come.

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