There is a genre of theater you might call the Avant-Garde Think Piece. Instead of a plot, the show "analyzes" a "text" for "postmodern" "themes." If it could, the performance would be riddled with footnotes, and patrons would walk out with a thick bibliography and an intense desire to read Jacques Lacan. The style is cerebral, condescending and induces headaches. Freshman college students are required to watch such productions; they frown for two-plus hours, and they resolve never to watch theater again.
Her Hamlet, a new piece presented by the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre, comes dangerously close to an AGTP. Created by Lisa Jackson-Schebetta and Theo Allyn, Her Hamlet takes a "canonical work" (William Shakespeare's Hamlet) and "unpacks" the "text" from the "perspective" of little Jude, Shakespeare's precocious daughter. Jude (played by Allyn) re-enacts her father's plays, "interpreting" them in a "fractured" format, thereby questioning the "structure" of her forebear. Her Hamlet also "addresses gender," because Jude performs the "masculine roles," while her "sister" (Robert Frankenberry) takes the "female" roles.
What saves Her Hamlet from grudging academia is the playful tone. On the surface, it's a European-style clown show, with pratfalls, puppets, songs and a whoopee cushion. Meanwhile, the performance showcases the limitless talents of Allyn and Frankenberry. Allyn is a well-known dramatic actress, and she alternates between classical monologue and childlike rambling at the drop of a skull. Frankenberry sings beautifully, plays the autoharp and speaks in several voices. They share the stage with energy and aplomb, and no matter how heady the script, the duo keep things earthbound.
In the end, Her Hamlet is only 45 minutes long. If you like Avant-Garde Think Pieces, you'll relish this show, and probably run home and write a term paper about it. If such productions make you grind your teeth, buck up: Allyn and Jackson-Schebetta aren't asking that much of you. And unlike so many re-envisioned classics, The Prince of Denmark is a story most people actually know. Her Hamlet relives favorite moments, from Polonius' stabbing to Ophelia's unfortunate swim. You even learn about Shakespeare's naughtier pastimes. Finally, Allyn performs "to be or not to be," and her interpretation alone is worth the visit.