The fact that Mad Cat Theatre Company would present “a dog and pony show” take on Hamlet is absolutely apropos. The ambitious theater company, which has 31 productions “under its belt” since its founding in 2000, is known for presenting original works and previously produced plays that could easily be classified as thinking man’s theater. Yet, the original idea for Mad Cat’s The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show had nothing to do with Shakespeare. “We set out to explore the American political landscape,” says Paul Tei, founder and artistic director of Mad Cat Theatre Company, and co-playwright and director of the world premiere play.
Their latest is a deconstruction of one of Shakespeare’s most influential plays. The company describes their version as “a tragedy of errors that remains in dialogue with the dead in order to build a method for which to go on living.”
“ ‘Hamlet’ worked as a template for us,” says Jessica Farr, who co-wrote the play with Tei. “Then we basically deconstructed it.”
It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last that Hamlet, the classic story that covers so much ground including treachery, greed, revenge, incest, moral corruption and family values, gets torn apart then put back together to deliver a message on par with The Bard’s, but with a postmodern twist. Talking with Tei and Farr recalls the late German playwright Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, an angst-ridden deconstruction whose message is delivered through a series of postmodern soliloquies.
Mad Cat’s take not only allows the age old question, “To be or not to be,” but contemplates whether or not the question is even still valid in today’s hypermodern society. “We were interested in taking apart circumstances and presenting them in a way that was soluble to audiences,” says Farr.
During the course of our conversation, there’s talk of Twitter, Occupy Wall Street, socialized medicine, America’s impending doom with China, and, of course, a multitude of topics that can’t help but be top of mind during a presidential election year. But, fear not, audiences won’t be pummeled with political messages and leave with a heavy heart.
“I’m personally tired of theater that takes itself way too seriously . . . theater that is supposed to be ‘good for me’ but isn’t necessarily good. There’s a way through humor and through musical numbers to get people to swallow politics and different philosophical viewpoints without hitting them over the head,” says Tei. “That’s where we are as a theater company; we’re not interesting in telling audiences what they already know.”
There are various influences in the play, too, the authors say: Germanic overtones a la Müller, pre Nazi Germany, America’s involvement with Vietnam, as well as the musical influences of Cabaret and All That Jazz.
There is also a bit of retelling of this decades old story. “How can we create a scene that hasn’t been told before?” says Farr. She gives an example from The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show that invents a scene between Getrude, Hamlet’s mother, and Ophelia, Hamlet’s love. “There is no scene between the two (in the original), but in our play there is. We fill in some blanks and decide what those blanks may be. It’s ‘Hamlet, What If?’ ”
The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show wraps up the theater company’s 12th season and features some familiar South Florida actors including Ken Clement, Troy Davidson (as Hamlet), and Christopher A. Kent, along with Giordan Diaz, Carey Brianna Hart, Emilie Paap, Theo Reyna, Brian Sayre and James Samuel Randolph as the voice of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. Farr is also part of the cast.
In keeping with the overall tone of the play, Tei says everyone had a say in the end product.
“Theater is usually not a democracy, it is a dictatorship,” says Tei, speaking from a director’s point of view. In this production, however, he says that he has taken on the role of just steering the ship.
“We’ve assembled this group of people because we know what they all can offer as artists and what they will add to the final project. The audience will see this in every facet from the actors/musicians on stage, as well as what the designers and everyone associated with the project contributed.”
So what do Farr and Tei hope audiences will take away from this menagerie of music, multimedia, puppetry, theater, i.e. a post-modern Shakespearean dog and pony show?
“Well, for one,” says Farr, “what kind of debt and responsibility do we have as individual citizens and as voters?”
“Good performance art, live performance, should create the ultimate response,” says Tei. “That is, as an audience member, something that happened during your time with us has created some sort of an awakening inside of you.”
The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show runs from July 27 through Aug. 12 with shows Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 N.W. 26th St., Miami. (866) 811-4111 and www.madcattheatre.org.