'The Assumption' is Refraction Arts Project's very modern and entertaining take on 'Hamlet' a Shakespearean satire of all things hillbilly and all things Eastern, set to a rock & roll beat
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Nov. 3, 2006
Blue Theater, through Nov. 10
Running Time: 1 hr, 50 min
Shakespeare's Hamlet is the most omnipresent piece of literature in Western culture. Even if you've never read it, you know of it and probably even know the story of the young prince meeting the ghost of his father, who says that he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, now married to his queen and occupying his throne. Hamlet vows revenge but, tortured by conscience, does nothing until a group of actors arrives, at which point he conceives the idea of enacting the crime in the form of a play, showing it to the king and watching the king react to the knowledge that the crime is known.
The Assumption, conceived and directed by Sonnet Blanton and Julia M. Smith, is Refraction Arts Project's very modern take on Hamlet, and while the two tales share the same outline, they couldn't be more different. Instead of kings, a queen, and a prince, we get beer-drinkin' hillbillies running a used tire store. When the dead father appears, he's dressed as a teddy bear and talks to his son (played by Smith) from a swiveling television screen. Instead of a group of actors arriving to entertain, we get a group of wrestlers. Instead of a fencing match, we get kung fu. And to top it all off, we get more than a half-dozen songs and some truly foot-stompin' choreography.
You get the idea. The Assumption is, quite literally, a pastiche, a Shakespearean satire of all things hillbilly and all things Eastern, set to a rock & roll beat. Set and costume designer Chase Staggs uses the entirety of the Blue Theater as his canvas, which at various times includes three separate bedrooms, the tire store, a dining room where a strangely postured tea ceremony is performed and a pool of cloudy water that is bubbling up from a rumbling, unknown source and in which a truly horrifying death occurs. (The roof of a trailer out in front of the Blue also is used, but there's no way I'll reveal what use it's put to.) Staggs' costumes are paint-spattered renditions of samurai and geisha, with some truly impressive mullets topping off a couple of them. Two of the performances stand out: Ron Berry as Clarence, the Claudius figure, is evil personified in a variety of mustaches, all of which he uses to great comic effect, and Cyndi Williams as PoPo, the Polonius figure, who memorably turns the famous "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech into a potpourri of lines from popular songs.
A threepiece band accompanies the actors, and it's unfortunate that, on two occasions, I couldn't understand a single word that was being sung, despite the fact that the actors were using microphones. That aside, the tunes are catchy, and the band unquestionably rocks the house. At the end of the show, the cast sings a song that contains the lyric, "This loss isn't good enough for sorrow or inspiration," and it's true. I can't say I was moved by this most famous of stories, but I can say that I was entertained. And darlin', there ain't nothin' wrong with that.