Lee Blessing’s “Fortinbras” has really come into its own. Anyone who first saw the play a decade or more ago may have been genuinely amused by Blessing’s cheeky, offbeat comedy. However, in its current production, presented by Theatre Neo at the Secret Rose in North Hollywood, “Fortinbras” seems almost freakishly timely, the kind of pungent political satire as of-the-moment as Jon Stewart’s opening monologue.
The action picks up where “Hamlet” left off. Hamlet (wry Brian Turley) has just expired in the arms of the faithful Horatio (able Blair Hickey) when Fortinbras (Greg Baglia), a Norwegian prince fresh from battle, arrives. Unflappably cheerful in the midst of carnage, Fortinbras quickly seizes power. Finding Horatio’s account of the murders implausible, Fortinbras “starts to make up the truth,” much to the ire of the recently dispatched ghosts roaming the corridors, who want the true tale told.
Parallels to present-day government abound, as Fortinbras spins the facts to suit his purposes — a deadly deceit, as it turns out.
Maria Cominis lets her fine cast romp through Blessing’s bawdy yarn. Baglia’s Fortinbras is a humorously hapless Everyman, caught in a web of his making. Dagney Kerr is satisfyingly salacious as the dead Ophelia, the succubus who seduces Fortinbras at his peril. Also notable are A.K. Raymond in her drag turn as Osric, the schlumpy courtier whose acquiescence proves fatal, and Stuart McLean as an initially mute Polonius, who learns, too late, that talk is cheap.
The dialogue is as scathing as it is hilarious. Horatio, grousing about Fortinbras’ revisionism, comments, “It’s not what happened,” to which Fortinbras replies, “I bet it will be.” Yet if history is written by the conquerors, it is rewritten by the satirists. Among those perspicacious practitioners who make merry as Rome — or Denmark — burns, Blessing still shines.