Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hamlet vs. Me

We're about to get underway with preproduction of Kung Fu Hamlet, a play created over half-priced wings at the Green Mill on Grand Ave. in Saint Paul by my No Refunds Theater Co. cohorts, Matt Dawson, Chris Howie and myself. We've done the show several times in the past to universal acclaim. It's like Cliff's Notes on crack.

There’s this episode in the last season of Northern Exposure where Chris in the Morning is doing a verbal defense of his dissertation on Casey at the Bat as a metaphor for the inevitable decline of western global dominance. The University of Alaska has sent two professors of literature to conduct the defense. One is a traditionalist, who believes in Chris’s analysis is symptomatic of the destruction of aesthetic appreciation of classic literature. The other is a deconstructionist who loves every word Chris utters and hates everything white and Eurocentric about culture. The two profs hate each other and almost wind up in a fist fight.

Late in the episode there’s a dream sequence where Chris is a soldier, pinned down in a tiny building with the remaining members of his regimen: Van Gogh, Beethoven, Poe and Shakespeare. He gets a call over the radio, “What? They just took out the western canon! Melville! Talk to me!”

Shakespeare grabs his rifle. “They’ve gone too far!” And he rushes out the door only to be gunned down!

Chris catches him, “No, Shakes, no!”

And Shakespeare groans, “’Tis a far, far better thing I do…”

Chris says, “Shakes, that’s Dickens.” But Shakes’ eyes roll back in his head and he dies.

Chris grabs his gun in a fury and runs out the door. Firing like mad, he dodges explosions and rolls across the ground, crawling. He hears footsteps and jumps to his feet pointing his rifle at his enemy – And it’s HIMSELF!

He’s assaulting and defending the classics at the same time.

In the end he takes the two professors out to a baseball diamond, recites the poem and strikes one of them out. Illustrating that what the poem is really about is the feeling of striking out. It's about baseball, and the opportunity for greatness on the line with every at bat.

I don't really see Kung Fu Hamlet as an assault on classic literature. Hamlet is a story that Shakespeare told better than anyone else, but like many of his plays, it had been told before.

There was a Nordic Tale recorded in Latin in 1200 AD about a prince named Amleth who pretends to be crazy in order to outwit his uncle who has murdered his father and married his mother. Amleth kills a spy in his mother's bedroom and is sent to England to be secretly executed, but he outwits everyone, murders his uncle and becomes king.

I feel that stories need to be retold, they need to be kept alive, and sometimes they need to have a little kung fu sprinkled on top to make them really kick-ass.

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