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Review: “Der Bestrafte Brudermord, or Hamlet Prince of Denmark”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Take out the words that we think are what we love about “Hamlet,” and what are we left with instead?

What happens when we skip the soliloquies and get straight to the point? One answer is an endearing 80-minute, slapstick romp that makes the melancholy Dane a lot funnier than we’ve ever seen before. And quite a bit bawdier, too.

In “Der Bestrafte Brudermord, or Hamlet Prince of Denmark,” playing through Feb. 8 the York Rite Theatre,” Hidden Room Theatre collaborates with Oxford scholar, Tiffany Stern, to take a strange eighteenth century manuscript and recreate what it may have once been: a German puppet-show version of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.

A laboratory for experiments in original practices of Shakespeare’s plays, “Brudermord” hands the puppet strings to an ensemble of actors.

Two actors (Judd Farris and Jason Newman) remain in front of the curtain, narrating and providing sound effects for the action on stage. Four more performers remain behind the scenes, steering the well-coifed stars of the show.

With meticulous attention to detail, Jennifer Rose Davis has outfitted a gorgeous cast of puppets. From their lavish costumes to their fabulous flowing locks, each puppet is a model of craftsmanship – as is the gorgeous puppet booth in which they perform. And both were designed and constructed based on Professor Stern’s research of historical archives from the period.

Similarly decked out in period costumes, Farris and Newman valiantly carry the narrative burden of the performance. Voicing the lines of all our favorite characters (and one or two surprise additions), they keep the energy high and skillfully improvise when mechanics go awry. All of which adds up to a playful and vivacious evening.

A devoted fan of puppet-theater, I nevertheless found the puppetry itself distracting at times, since several of the poor creatures are occasionally left dangling lifeless onstage. But in striving to replicate original practices and capture a Punch and Judy style of days gone by, the performance takes the classic tragedy and turns it delightfully upside down.

You don’t have to love “Hamlet” to enjoy the show, and it demands that Shakespeare devotees take even the tragedies a bit less seriously.

“Der Bestrafte Brudermord, or Hamlet Prince of Denmark” continues through Feb. 8. www.hiddenroomtheatre.com