Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
If you ever wondered what would happen to Shakespeare’s Hamlet if someone took a different approach, I recommend Clio Cast and Crew’s current production of Barbecuing Hamlet by Pat Cook. They opened their 2015-2016 Season with a strong performance.
Barbecuing Hamlet was a nonstop series of crazy, goofy scenes as an outside director is hired by a small town theatre group to direct Hamlet. The director arrives on the scene to discover that the theatre is set in an old funeral home and the local arts council has very different ideas about producing plays. Pat Cook has written 150 plays and says, “Everyone has a story to tell.”
Theatre directors would appreciate the problems of the outside director. If you’ve ever directed a show, you could relate to this one easily. Very few people showed up at auditions to fill the 30 plus characters. Those who did show up weren’t the most talented folks in the world, but the show must on. Eventually, the arts council changes the rules and they join the cast. The Hamlet production goes in a very different direction. Even the set was not Shakespearian, but was instead an Old West town. Good old Hamlet finally gets what he deserves.
Director Jon Coggins put together a very talented cast. It is tough to play a bad actor. This show requires great timing and concentration, because it is a bit confusing as they go back and forth. But the entire cast was energetic, and gave a well-played performance.
Clio Cast and Crew newcomer Mary Whitt played Margo Daly, the new director. They better hang on to her. She took the role after the original lead became ill. Whitt has stage presence and a strong voice. She played the part very convincingly. She was a match for everyone on stage, and we enjoyed her performance. She used the whistle Sarge gave to her effectively.
Dave Turner played Sarge. In the show he was the backstage go to guy who seems to know everything, just as all sergeants do. He had great presence and a good sense of timing. He provided numerous laughs throughout. The director even tried to get him into Hamlet, but he wouldn’t bite. That is not to say he didn’t make a few well-timed and hilarious entrances.
Tamara, the head of the arts council, was played by Jane McMillan. She was the voice of reason and calmness on the council. She gave a very good performance and kept the rowdies on the council in line. She was always an optimist and an idea person, even if the off the wall ideas were way out of the box.
JR Nunley played Hope Halliday, who was supposed to direct the play but didn’t get enough votes. It would have been interesting if the director had put Hope in a dress. Nunley was a joy to watch on stage as he always does the many little things that give a play depth. Director Coggins played Duncan O’Toole, also on the council. Coggins was strong in this role; we loved his John Wayne impression during the Hamlet scenes. The Duke would have been proud of Jon the Pilgrim. Becky Coggins played Marybeth Lumpkin, the secretary of the council. She is a lost soul that Becky played very well.
Other notables include Doug Yerian, Sandy Turner, Shane Wachowicz, Steve Yerian, Andrea Wilkerson, and Melanie Marcus. They comprised the Hamlet cast. They were a hoot and brought great energy to the stage. They delighted the audience with swordplay, pizzas, Charley horses, overdone or oddly delivered lines and more. They made it look easy. The ashes of Donnelly, the guy who gave the group the theatre, also made his presence known. He even made a very dramatic entrance when he was dumped all over the floor. Even the Hamlet skull performed dramatically. Well, it bounced nicely several times.
The very old cowboy music during the pre-show really set the tone for the play. Some of those tunes were older than any of the actors, maybe even some people in the audience. We kept waiting for the six shooters and guitars to appear. We loved the combination “Chorus Line” music throughout the play and the Broadway music. Of course the show ended with “Happy Trails To You”. Very appropriate. Roy and Dale would have been pleased.
The scene changes needed to be smoothed out quieted down and sped up. The collapsing table crashing to the floor didn’t help their cause. We hope they get the hang of it.
If you love to laugh, this show is for you. You may even gain some new insight into Hamlet. Shakespeare, we are certain, would approve of that. Even the program contained some very interesting and out of the box bios. We give the cast and crew a standing ovation.
Barbecuing Hamlet runs from September 25- through October 4th, 2015. Friday and Saturday shows start at 7:30PM, and Sunday shows start at 2:30PM. Tickets can be purchased by calling 810-687-2588 or online at wwwcliocastandcrew.com. The theatre is located at 2220 W. Vienna Rd.