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THEATER REVIEW Bat-Hamlet
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-06-12

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Playwright: Jordan Pulliam

At: Corn Productions at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $10-$15; Cornservatory.org . Runs through: July 14

"Sometimes a man has to dress a certain way to do what he must do" declares our hero as he reluctantly acknowledges a universe where corruption is so widespread that only by embracing its stratagems can its defeat be ensured. Whether uttered by Shakespeare's melancholy prince or DC Comics' masked crusader, the myth of the lone man forced into disguise to wage war against deception crippling the social fabric of his homeland is so culturally ubiquitous that Jordan Pulliam's conflation of Elizabethan tragedy with Depression-era graphic-noir thriller is but a short step.

Our locale is the city of Gothick—its landscape of graffiti-scarred darkness ruled by The Jester, following the untimely death of Police Commissioner Gordric and the usurper's marriage to the deceased's daughter. Hamlet, the latter's brother, has returned from college for the funeral, where he discovers suspicious circumstances surrounding his sire's demise, launching a search for the truth that will exact a cruel price—not just on his own kin, but that of his sweetheart, too.

Audiences seeking a somber tale of royal family intrigue can find it this summer in Jefferson Park, but this is Corn Productions, purveyor of BYOB goof-and-spoof for over two decades. From Michael Brooks' tagger-art scenic design to Heather Meyers' discount-house costumes and Ross Christian's curiously hesitant lighting, the ambience on this still-a-trifle-shaky second-night performance was that of gleeful children re-enacting their favorite action-adventure romp in someone's garage. Don't let the proliferation of low-budget gags trick you into overlooking the multiple analogical levels in play—for example, the connection between Pulliam's "Songbird Boy," whose colors mimic his namesake's plumage, even as his quasi-medieval garb bespeaks his origins as "Robin" ( you know, like in "Hood" ).

The key to this brand of slam-bang parody is to maintain a velocity suggesting madcap giddiness without hurtling along so swiftly that the performers ( displaying more diversity than in earlier productions ) trip over themselves—especially during Orion Couling's ingenious fights. These include metal-musician hair employed as a flail, thumb-wrestling as a traveling maneuver and a female-on-female smackdown featuring Ann-Claude Rakotoniaina and Lindsay Bartlett as O-Feline and Bat-Hamlet-Girl. Theatergoers more enamored of style than slapstick will enjoy Reed Bentley's effete Jester and Winter Jones' svelte Riddles, while Patrick Pantelis returns as the portly Lord Puffin.


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