Watch Your Language

Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, which originally premiered in 1979, continues Tom Stoppard’s longstanding fascination with restaging Shakespeare. While not quite as rewarding as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the work is playful, intelligent, and—if staged properly—utterly terrifying. The first act has a group of kids speaking a nonsense language called “Dogg.” The script provides a translation, but the audience doesn’t see one; Dogg’s Hamlet succeeds because, through tone and body language, we don’t actually need it. The scene, though gibberish, makes perfect sense. The kids eventually perform an abridged Hamlet in the original English, and then they do it again, and then again. Each time the play becomes shorter, a sort of madcap theater game.

In act two, a performance of Macbeth in the living room of a Czech artist is interrupted by a government inspector (Tara Giordano). She is cheerful, encouraging, but she makes clear that they are being watched and that violence is a possibility. After a series of rambling speeches, she asks them to resume. Needless to say, the stakes of performance are higher here.

In the first act, this revival from the Potomac Theater Project—running in repertory with Havel: The Passion of Thought—succeeds quite well, and the performances are clear enough to be legible despite the nonsense language. They seem to be having fun and the feeling is contagious. However, in the second act, director Cheryl Faraone fails to adequately raise the tension, and most of the interactions between inspector and artists are played for laughs. This drains the work of its political force; it is still funny at times, but it’s never terrifying.

Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth runs through August 5th at Atlantic Stage 2.  330 W. 16th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 45 minutes. One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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