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THEATER REVIEW hamlet is dead. no gravity
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2014-02-05

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Playwright: Ewald Palmetshofer; Translator: Neil Blackadder. At: Red Tape Theatre at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: www.redtapetheatre.org; $25. Runs through: Feb. 22

On opening night, Red Tape Theatre artistic director Brandon Ray regretfully announced that Neil Blackadder's world premiere English-language translation of Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer's 2007 drama hamlet is dead. no gravity would be the company's last production at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Though it's sad that Red Tape and other theaters apparently won't have access to this very versatile theater space in the future, at least Red Tape exits it with an assured artistic bang.

hamlet is dead. no gravity doesn't feature any characters from Shakespeare's famous tragedy. Yet it does share a high body count at the end and quite a few characters puzzling over matters of life and death.

The production focuses on two siblings, Dani ( Amanda Drinkall ) and Mani ( Alex Stage ), who return to visit their hometown for a school friend's funeral that coincides with their grandmother's 95th birthday. While there, Dani and Mani become greatly unsettled by not only a chance encounter with former friends who are now married, Bine ( Sarah Grant ) and Oli ( Blake Russell ), but by their unhappy parents, Kurt ( John Fenner Mays ) and Caro ( Iona Livingston ).

Presented after the fact, each of the characters grapples to explain his or her side of the story and to reason with themselves in light of the impending/past family horror that is revealed. This all leads to a very fragmentary storytelling structure that forces you to piece it together like a puzzle. Don't be surprised if you still have a few questions knocking about by the end.

To depict Palmetshofer's tragic family implosion, director Seth Bockley and set designer Shawn Ketchum Johnson have created a clinically dark and spare world akin to a laboratory. With harsh florescent lighting by designer Julie Mack, Bockley arranges his actors in artsy patterning that falls somewhere between brilliant and pretentious symbolism.

The performances are uniformly strong in the ensemble, with each actor rightfully trying to edge out the others. Particularly good is the annoyingly ingratiating pleasantries by Grant as Bine and Russell's wry and nonchalant nature as Oli.

Drinkall does a fine job at showing Dani's self-aware shock of her bottled-up feelings of love, while Stage could do a bit more to make the over-thought philosophized rants of Mani more spontaneous.

Livingston's exhaustion is palpably felt as mother Caro, while May's dark mysterious moodiness certainly proves sinister for his take on Kurt.

So what is meant to be taken away from hamlet is dead. no gravity? That chance encounters could set off murderous impulses that have been simmering away for years? That life can be shockingly snuffed out despite one's professed weariness with it all?

Really, the conclusion is up to the individual audience member to make of what they will from the artfully arranged pieces set up by Red Tape Theatre's assured artistic forces.


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