Oct. 6 2010 12:00 AM

’Fortinbras’ puts ham back into ’Hamlet’



Whether you are in or out of the Shakespeare camp, "Fortinbras" simply requires a love of "camp." Currently running at Riverwalk Theatre’s Blackbox Stage, Lee Blessing’s bawdy, crowd-pleasing "Hamlet"skewering joke mill falls over itself with clever references to "Hamlet," mocking its literary interpretations and masterpiece status.

Under the direction of Ken Beachler, the performances are mostly played for the "yuk factor," instead of sincere emotions, but "Fortinbras" finds the funny through several fantastic lead performances that make the most out of a sub-standard script.

Like "Back to the Future 2," "Fortinbras" begins during the final moments of its “prequel,” as Hamlet lies in Horatio’s arms, requesting that Fortinbras be crowned the next Danish king and begging that the story of treachery be told. When Fortinbras does arrive, he concludes that Horatio’s version of events is too preposterous for the public to believe.

Being a slick politician of modern authorship, Fortinbras fabricates his own story in a "wag the dog" manner to cover the truth. Only the ghosts of the entire royal family and a runaway army foil his plans.

Evan Pinsonnault performs Fortinbras as a Midwestern Seinfeld on five shots of espresso. Pinsonnault’s precision is worth admiring for its sheer amount of athleticism required to maintain stamina. However, Pinsonnault never makes the character more believable than a cartoon sketch, as he is in on every joke. As a result, Pinsonnault relies on his own vocal dexterity to provoke laughs, a choice that only has diminishing returns.

In stark contrast, Abby Murphy is the show’s sincere mistress, infusing her part of the story with much needed sexual energy as the ghost of Ophelia. Since her death, Blessing postulates that Ophelia has become a sexually enlightened vixen in favor of Fortinbras’ revised history that would portray her character in a better light. Murphy makes herself difficult for Fortinbras or the audience to resist, seducing each with honest passion that stays funny because Murphy never plays the joke.

Other fun performances come from Ben Holzhauzen as the living and dead Hamlet; Jeff Magnuson as dead Claudius; and Amy Rickett as dead Gertrude. All three actors are able to play up the silliness of their scenes while maintaining a semblance of Shakespearian gravitas.

The rest of the cast at the very least appears to be having fun. Beachler seeks to maximize this by pushing his actors for energy while allowing plenty of room for improvisation. Actors such as Joseph Dickson (as Horatio) are prepared to react when objects unintentionally clang loudly on the set.

The show only goes truly awry in the costumes chosen by Mary K. Hodges-Nees.

From the palace guards dressed in matching Michigan State University and University of Michigan fan regalia, to Gertrude wearing a pleather S&M costume, the costumes receive their sought-after laughs (sometimes with a shock), but over the course of the show’s duration, they tend to distract instead of enhance.

Throughout the script, Blessing himself mocks the lowbrow quality of his work and, in a way, the production reciprocates by not taking itself too seriously — which is unfortunate, because the best moments arrive when the actors stop laughing at themselves and let the audience do it for them.


Theatre 228 Museum Dr., Lansing 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m.
Sundays Oct. 8-10 $12 adults; $10 for seniors over 55, students or
military (517) 482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.com