BOTTOM LINE: Hamlettes is a charming but flawed comidrama about tween girls and their immature attempt at an amatuer production of Hamlet.
Making its New York debut, Hamlettes is an off-beat new play about three tween girls who decide to start a theatre company and produce Hamlet. The script brims with "silly girl" gags, schmaltzy interpretations of Shakespearean scenes, and finally Shakespeare-ized dialogue. As a whole it's a charming, warm play with exceptional performances.
Alexandra Bassett, Savannah Clement, and Lauren Weinberg bring charm and commitment to their roles as the tweens, with Bassett's vocals being particularly dynamic, and Clement transversing a range of physicalities. But they aren't well cast in their respective parts, and this may be why the exaggerations of the performances sometimes come across as cartoonish.
The space at The Cherry Pit also works against Hamlettes. The acoustics often swallow the voices of the actresses who are already trying to talk over a very loud air conditioner. The challenging sightlines of the stage aren't overcome by the blocking; many things both aural and visual are lost to any given section of the audience.
Even without losing parts of the scenes, the conflict is difficult to follow. This confusion is only worsened when the text becomes more densely Shakespearean. At a certain point near the climax, the characters begin to speak exclusively in faux-Shakespeare dialogue. At this point the show is no longer intended to be funny, and this muddy speech undermines the subtext and emotion of the characters. When the climax comes, it seems sudden and unsubstantiated.
Before this derailment, though, the script builds smoothly, and the scenes clip along at a cinematic pace. The sound design clearly delineates time passage and some space changes, and there are some clever lighting specials as well. Best of all, there are several wonderful images created on the stage, particularly one near the end of the show when Bassett shapes the clothes of another character into a human form and lays with them.
In Hamlettes, the beginning is comedy and the ending is a tragedy. The show is better at being funny.
(Hamlettes plays at The Cherry Pit, 155 Bank Street between West and Washington streets, through August 28th. The remaining performance is Saturday, August 28th at 7:15pm. For more information visit www.fullstopcollective.org. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue . There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)