by Jona Tarlin · May 6, 2014
It would be more appropriate to review this play entirely in Emojis, but since I have an expected word count I will do my best in English:
These are hard plays and that is what drew me to the Wild Project, where the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble is performing the twinned Stoppard one-acts Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth in rep with the play The Fool’s Lear by Randy Neale. Dogg’s Hamlet, the first of the night, is written mainly in a type of English in which the meanings of words have been transposed. For example, the phrase “very true” means “needs salt.” The characters all speak this language but are rehearsing a production of the play Hamlet in, well, English English. Treated like a foreign language, which Shakespeare can feel like at first, the actors check their scripts regularly to make sure they’re getting the words right. What they ultimately perform, a stripped down Hamlet, and then perform again, pared down even further serve to reinforce the playwright’s ideas on the malleable nature of language and how little is needed to tell a story.
The best moments in the play are when language isn’t necessary. The play is not about teaching the audience to understand Dogg as much as conveying a built in knowledge of Dogg based on the non-verbal actions of the actors, whose slapstick talents vary. When it hits it slays, but I found myself longing for the play to loosen up a little and let go. It’s odd to ask for a little more chaos, but moments felt so buttoned tight the laughter couldn’t slip out.
Cahoot’s Macbeth, presents an abbreviated production of Macbeth, interrupted and subsequently carried out under the watch of a secret police officer. Dedicated to the Czech playwright Pavel Kohout who along with some fellow actors was banned from performing under the communist government due to their participation in the informal civic initiative Charter 77. The troupe proceeded to create a version of Macbeth that could play in living rooms (thanks Wikipedia!). The plays’ director, Kevin Confoy (full disclosure: I was a student of Confoy’s in college) presents these two plays without this context, divorcing them from the spirit they were originally written and allowing the audience to update the plays to our current political climate.
The whole ensemble works their butts off to make these shows happen. The sheer mental gymnastics required to memorize and convey a whole new language deserve a round of applause. Jason O’Connell is a standout as the Inspector, his excellent timing softening what could have been an over the top role. LeeAnne Hutchison also delivers an excellent nonsensical monologue with all the gravitas and pathos of Shakespeare. Lastly, the sets (and lights!) by Jay Ryan are wonderfully abstracted, simple yet effective.
It is odd to see Tom Stoppard’s attempt at experimental theater. It is a credit to the cast and director that the play never feels like “Experimental Theater”. This is a fully formed production of a decidedly non-conformist play from a writer who cannot fully give up his populist streak. So don’t be afraid, go see Dogg’s Hamlet/Cahoot’s Macbeth, it played on Broadway for god’s sake.