A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review: Fortinbras

Lee Blessing’s 1992 political satire is even more timely today and may well be the funniest show in town. It begins where Shakespeare’s Hamlet ended, with the entrance of young Prince Fortinbras (Greg Baglia), whose idiom is strictly 20th century.

The inhabitants of Elsinore, living and dead, are still playing old tapes and those who know Hamlet will get a special kick out of this play.

On the simpler slapstick level, Fortinbras works just fine and prompted a colleague to suggest it as part of a repertory with Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead— a wonderful idea not just for English majors!

Director Maria Cominis has the cajones to mount a feareless and hysterical production for Theatre Neo without losing the moments of bewildered normalcy from Fortinbras and Osric. As Fortinbras, now Hamlet’s heir, struggles to live a normal life of lust and ambition, he’s blocked at every turn by the ghosts and survivors of Shakespeare’s characters and their repetitive agendas.

Ophelia has the biggest transition from the painfully frustrated maiden to a salacious succubus who has convinced Fortinbras a woman doesn’t reach her sexual peak until she’s dead. With tango-esque leaps to wrap herself around Fortinbras, Dagney Kerr redeems Ophelia from her watery grave big time.

Baglia is the perfect Fortinbras, a likeable action hero who wishes he’d gone to Wittenberg College like Hamlet and is dumbfounded by the kingdom he finds himself ruling, complete with an out-of-control invasion and the omnipresent ghosts of the last administration. The excellent cast range from Stuart McLean as a statuesque Polonius still frutrated by the Court’s brush-off to the Captain, a small part distinguished by the quirkiness of Donaco Smyth. Osric is the only character with an arc. His afterlife strips him of toadying and allows him to speak his mind. The pretty actress who plays him with sardonic flair is A. J. Raymond, real-life wife of Fortinbras.

Tina Zarro has designed the excellent costumes and, though not credited, the pale make-up and red eyes of the ghosts should be mentioned. Lee Blessing, whose career I’ve followed since the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference in 1983, has a body of diverse work/ Fortinbras is by far his funniest.