Brothers and sisters, if your plans for the 2015 Fringe Festival do not include Lathem Prince, change your plans. It’s that good.
The New York City-based Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective has deconstructed Hamlet, and, under the firm hand of playwright Ahslin Halfnight and director Hondo Weiss Richmond, lovingly reconstructed it. In this telling, Lathem Prince (Jordan Kaplan), is a boy living in suburban Ontario who dreams of being an archeologist. His father William (Michael Hardart) is not a warrior king but a depressive with a gift for metaphor and a synesthesiac (he could smell emotions; other synesthesiacs include Vladimir Nabokov and Billy Joel).
And his mother, Gertie Prince (Regina Gibson) – well, she has long given up on William and has thrown herself out, vagina first, to the Universe. Her libido aflame, she offers a two-dimensional version of her body to the Internet, and has netted the interest of the ridiculous Claude Husler (Eric Emil Oleson), a Franco-American pornographer living in Detroit.
Lathem himself has attracted the interest of the luminous, libidinous Lia Furtonelli (Patricia Lynn); and, though it is difficult for him, he has reciprocated. His love for Lia has won him the friendship of her hot-tempered stoner brother Patio (Christopher Bonewitz). And thus we can see the parallel with Hamlet: Lathem is the Prince himself (“Lathem” is an anagram of “Hamlet”); Gertie is Gertrude; Claude is Claudius; Lia is Ophelia; William is Hamlet the elder; and Patio is Horatio and Laertes and also the gravedigger who discovered Yorick’s skull.
Why recontextualize Hamlet? Because, at bottom, it is a story about the human condition, and the high political consequences are less important than we imagine. Consider Hamlet as any adolescent who has come to understand that his mother, no less than himself, is prey to sexual impulses. Consider him further as a young man whose mother, having divorced, or survived, her husband, now turns to another man. Lathem, or Hamlet, thus imagines his mother as the whore of Babylon, and his stepfather as Satan himself.
by Ahslin Halfnight
Directed Hondo Weiss-Richmond
Details and tickets
Halfnight is not afraid to be silly, even offensively so, in service to the story. Thus Gertie poses in high-camp red underwear for Claude’s nasty pictures (costumes are by Lynn), and Claude proudly sports a three-foot long, fire engine-red erection for many of his scenes. Gertie and William both say wildly inappropriate things to Lathem (“I need to get something off my chest,” Gertie tells her son at one point. “Off my breasts”.)
The effect of all this is to remind us what Lathem – and Hamlet – are: kids, coming into a blundering awareness of their own sexuality, and the sexuality of everyone around them. It terrifies them (Lathem, preparing to lose his virginity to Lia, insists on wearing two condoms because Lia admits she has been sexually active) and disgusts them, and they long for it. It is astonishing to think of Gertie and Claude as sex-drunk porn puppets, but to a young man struggling with his own sexual feelings, a kiss and cuddle between his mother and her new beau is a difference of kind, not degree.
The novice playwright, hoping to make his scenes plausible, struggles to write normal-sounding dialogue, and so becomes boring. Halfnight, on the other hand, knows that in the hands of good actors, the implausible becomes plausible, and even compelling and moving. Lathem Prince succeeds because these superb actors are at every moment the person they are meant to be, delivering dialogue with such authenticity that the most astonishing things seem completely natural. There are portions of the play which are breathtakingly, heartbreakingly funny, and it is the actors that make it so.
And that, brothers and sisters, is theatre.
Lathem Prince has four more shows at the Atlas. Go to one of them, or you’ll regret it. Seriously.