Rothkin’s Hamlet: A Play Outside a Play, and a Bit of Dog Day

Reviewed by Christopher Sirota

If only my high school English teacher had taken us to see Andrew Rothkin’s Hamlet: Bound & Unbound, now playing as part of the 2012 Midtown International Theatre Festival, I would have gotten excited about the Bard of Avon at a much younger age: imagine Shakespeare mixed with the famous 1975 Al Pacino film Dog Day Afternoon, how fun is that?  Both serious and hilarious from beginning to end, it is a crowd pleaser, and thought provoker, revealing Rothkin, author of the recently produced laser-sharp introspective play Meredith’s Ring, as an artist with the unyielding ability to mix the two with aplomb.  Also revealed again in this version of Hamlet is how ageless the story is even in our modern digitally-compressed-attention-span times…the story, the characters still work, the emotions still ring true…

Now,  the curtain rises and we enter the world of Shakespeare…for some people fantastic, to others yawn-tastic…but wait!  We then enter again, via a modern bridge: this modern play is outside the original Hamlet play, the opposite of the play within a play in the classic.  No spoilers here (my jib’s not cut that way), but suffice it to say we are introduced to the classic characters, and then we hear and see them in modern guise.  The relationships are developed clearly in the modern layer, so there is no need to have a firm grasp of the original, but if you do there is even more to be enjoyed.  Eric Percival kicks out his best “Pacino” in the lead role of Robert that seems, to me at least, to be a homage in some respects to the aforementioned film.  Eric fleshes out the confusion, absurdity, and intense frustration of his situation, and does it with an insane love for the play Hamlet.

Director Joan Kane keeps the pace moving along so there are no lulls at all, and has the other players throw zingers from both sides of the stage like the unexpected final kernels of popcorn suddenly popping…really cracking up the audience for the opening night show this Wednesday night.  The cast handled these zingers like naturals, with great deliveries of these precious morsels.  Of mention, Kelly Zekas, who played opposite the “Pacino” character so you can imagine the powerful onslaught of anger and earnestness she had to withstand, all the while maintaining a calmness and adding humorous tones here and there.  Also outstanding John Sarno, as Claudius, and Randi Sobol as Gertrude, both providing bravado performances in their classic and modern characters. The lighting onstage and set design cradled the cast in a spartan but striking castle, though I was not keen on leaving the house lights up for effect for almost the entire show…please let me leave the light of reality at the door, that’s why I’m here.

Overall, I laughed out loud many times, chuckled inside some more, and then felt pretty bad for the characters in the desperate situation they find themselves in…sorry, I said, no spoilers…but for me that’s entertainment…make me laugh make me cry… hope you can catch the next two performances this weekend, and anything else Rothkin writes in the future.

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Christopher Sirota reviews classical theater and opera for Drama-Queens and other online publications. He appeared in the acclaimed 2010 production of Romeo & Juliet: Brooklyn. He is also a cinematographer currently in development for his first feature film.  


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