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A CurtainUp Review
Hamlet Hallucinations

"To be, or not to be: that is the question." — Hamlet
Hamlet Hallucinations Giacomo Rocchini as Hamlet.
(Photo credit: Lee Wexler)
Dario D'Ambrosi's Hamlet Hallucinations, inspired by Shakespeare's classic tragedy, is a surreal journey through the protagonist's psyche. Those who love their Shakespeare to distraction should turn off their TVs and head to the East Village to see this radical reassessment of the play at La Mama E.T.C.

D'Ambrosi's version of Hamlet doesn't cover the whole dramatic landscape of the tragedy. But it does something else. It takes a very serious look at the madness theme and gives it a sharp new twist by having it told from the Gravedigger's perspective. It posits that Hamlet is a schizophrenic who has been traumatized by —no surprise here — his father's death and mother's hasty remarriage to his Uncle Claudius.

Departing from the play's original structure, D'Ambrosi takes Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" and turns it into a pathological condition. Indeed it is a wild and wooly ride that begins and ends in a cemetery. And those who think that the Annual Halloween Parade through the Village is a mind-bending experience, well, D'Ambrosi's new spooky take on Hamlet just might outdo its colorful pageantry and floats this season.

Hamlet Hallucinations has two distinct movements. In its first part, Hamlet is hallucinating, hearing Voices from his past that terribly disturb his peace of mind and well-being. He alternately encounters the Ghost, his mother Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia, and, most significantly, himself. Although it is his paranoia that is actually creating the Voices, D'Ambrosio mediates it, if you will, via a Mortician (aka Gravedigger). Hamlet thus engages in a weird duet with the Mortician, who appears to be suffering from OCD and wants everything-and everybody--in place. You wouldn't want to invite this Mortician to dinner at your home. But for exploring Hamlet's psyche, he's perfect!

The second movement is joined at the hip to the first. Hamlet and the Mortician continue to tease out the toxic events at Elsinore, with Hamlet rehashing the tragedy of his young life over and over again. Both characters draw on Shakespeare's verse to anchor their rantings, ad libbing it with colloquial speech that smacks of gallows humor.

There's a deliberate shift of energies from the first to the second movement of the play, with the latter part becoming the resolution of the first. While the Mortician acts as a foil for Hamlet's fantasies until the play's midpoint, the reverse dynamic emerges in the second half. There the Mortician imagines himself as topdog, and "bullies" Hamlet into analyzing his disease, telling him to stop being childish and a "fake." D'Ambrosi never clarifies whose viewpoint is right but keeps you in a theatrical limbo throughout the 75-minute piede.

While the pas de deux between Hamlet and the Mortician dominates everything, there's a third mysterious character who insinuates himself into many scenes, and embodies Hamlet's hallucinations of his father, his mother, Claudius, and Ophelia. This protean character makes Hamlet's madness, if not concrete, very palpable.

D'Ambrosi, who fluidly directs the piece, makes the dreamscape work in a will-o'-the-wisp style. He ably transitions from one absurdist scene to the other, leapfrogging from character to character forward, and in reverse. You do need to suspend your disbelief,and then some, to enjoy his deconstructed Hamlet. But it is ultimately rewarding watching the triptych of performers participate in a rich, if somewhat mangled, meditation on the Prince's domestic dilemma. Moreover, Hamlet Hallucinations fills the truth of the play in a very novel fashion.

Luisa Viglietti's eerie set has you overlook a cemetery with bare dirt, wooden crosses, white skulls, and an old-fashioned bathtub filled with water (Ophelia sadly drowns in its shallow depths before the finale). This wasteland is ghoulishly illuminated by Danilo Facco's lighting, which even at its brightest, seems tinged with gray. Danielle Gelsi and Raffaella Toni's dirt-stained and tattered costumes are apropos to a cemetery. And Francesco Santalucia's original music is blood-chillingly right.

The acting is spot on. Giacomo Roccchini's Hamlet comes through as the crazy Prince who greatly struggles with his identity. Playing opposite the protagonist is Dario D'Ambrosi embodies the Mortician who loves to get in the last word, and often does. Mauro F. Cardinali takes on Hamlet's father, his mother, King Claudius and Ophelia with dazzling agility.

This adaptation of Hamlet, which looks at the play through the prism of mental illness, is not for purists or the faint-hearted. But it should intrigue those who are able to embrace a less than reverent remounting of a play they think they know.

Hamlet Hallucinations
Written and directed by Dario D'Ambrosi
Based on William Shakespeare's Hamlet
Cast: Giacomo Rocchini (Hamlet), Dario D'Ambrosi (Mortician/Gravedigger), Mauro F. Cardinali (The Ghost, Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia).
Sets: Luisa Viglietti
Costumes: Daniele Gelsi & Raffaella Toni
Original Music: Francesco Santalucia
Lighting: Danilo Facco
Stage Manager: Alessandro Corazzi
La Mama, E.T.C., at the First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street. Tickets: $18 general admission, $13 seniors and students. Phone 212/475-7710 or visit
From 10/17/13; opening: 10/17/13; closing 11/03/13.
Thursdays through Saturdays @ 7:30pm; Sundays @ 2:30pm.
Running time: 1 hour; 15 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 10/18/13
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