It seems a month for sleepers; another, sneaking in at Rattlrstick, is Hamlet in Bed, written by its co-star Michael Laurence and directed by Lisa Peterson. Here’s the boilerplate: “Michael (Laurence, using his own name) is a neurotic actor and adoptee obsessed with two things: finding his real mother, and playing the famous Gloomy Dane. His twin fixations collide when he tracks down Anna (Annette O’Toole), a reclusive former actress-turned-barfly; gripped by the notion that she might be his actual birth-mother, he first stalks her from a distance, then lures her into a noirish production of Hamlet playing the role of the queen, his mother.”
This is dark, darkly funny, twisty stuff, psychologically edgy and yet somehow, weirdly, about love, and the kind of hope that can keep us going when we’re at our most bereft. On a stage that is almost starkly bare, most of the time, in pools of light that highlight personal isolation, Laurence is unafraid to venture into what I call “the shameless confessional.” He’s a guy who is fucked up, knows he’s fucked up, admits that he’s fucked up, indicates pangs of conscience, but is really only wallowing in self-involved existential angst. As to Anna—how victimized is she? Sometimes it seems as if Michael’s biggest crime is re-awakening the artist and dreamer in her. Anna is played with glorious abandon by Annette O’Toole, giving an equally fearless portrait of a woman who has only suppressed, not lost, her passions, which are bubbling deep in her belly when we meet her, but come roaring to the surface once she finally lets herself engage. (I have to add, Ms. O’Toole gives easily the most swashbuckling curtain bow I have ever witnessed. She ought to be on the NY stage far more regularly. She’s the kind of performer the term “national treasure” was borrowed for.)
A worthy head trip, this one. And, I don’t mean this wryly, an original variation on the theme of family play.
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