Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth

Sometimes the plot in Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth by Tom Stoppard, first produced in 1979, runs too close to home. But some background first:

In Dogg's Hamlet, practically everyone speaks in Dogg, a guttural-sounding language that is a mix-up of actual words. A school in England is presenting a 15-minute version of Hamlet, which is spoken in a "foreign" language, English, and emphasizes the play's best-known lines. At its completion, the cast performs another, abbreviated version in a breakneck encore. Lots of hilarity ensues as communication misunderstanding arise and the play's pace quickens. Directed by Cheryl Faraone, PTP's co-artistic director, the first half shows the power of language while ebullient physical comedy displays how easily communication becomes disconnected.

Cahoots Macbeth serves as a companion piece, emphasizing the importance of free expression since the play is part of a forbidden living-room production, where the audience is well, the audience watching, and an Inspector keeps interrupting the unfolding action of Macbeth murdering his way to the Scottish throne--a disturbing parallel to the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia (where, in 1977, covert theatre acted as a protest since artists could not perform publicly) as well as to modern times where free speech is dismantled by repressive governments more everyday.

Chirstopher Marshall, Christo Grabowski, Tara Giordano in Cahoot's Macbeth.Photographer Stan Barouh.
Stoppard, born in Czechoslovakia, left the country at two and while he never lived under its Communist oppression conveys it perfectly here--making it unnerving and absurd simultaneously. Even as the audience laughs while actors spar with the Inspector there is an acknowledged silent truth that Big Brother could be watching. Ultimately, Dogg becomes the method of protest as Cahoot ends.

Overall, the cast is excellent, with a few stand-outs. Christo Grabowski as Fox Major/Hamlet and Banquo/Cahoot is iron-sharp with his dialogue and a graceful presence cavorting on stage. Matthew Ball as Easy navigates a difficult role, naturally conveying his confusion at a language he doesn't understand as he charmingly becoming an essential participant in the whimsical construction of the school's set--where several nonsensical phrases are spelled out before Dogg's Hamlet appears.

At times the production inventively modernizes the work. The three witches wear hoods that light up eerily around their face. The costumes, a hybrid of period pieces and contemporary clothes like jeans though, seem inconsistent though (Costumes by Chris Romagnoli-Dogg; Rebecca Lalon-Cahoot). There are also opportunities for Faraone to push the piece further into current times. It would be interesting to see a truly contemporary version of Stoppard's play set in our modern world.

For more on the show, see Wendy Caster's excellent review.

Running at PTP/NYC at The Atlantic Stage 2 (330 W. 16th St.) through August 4 in repertory with Havel: The Passion of Thought, five one-act plays by Vaclav Havel, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. For more information, see To see the 2019 season promo trailer, click here

(Press ticket)

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