DOGG'S HAMLET, CAHOOT'S MACBETH -- At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater through September.
Tom Stoppard, who collaborated successfully with William Shakespeare in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," has reassembled the writing team for "Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth," in which the younger playwright has edited out the elder's excess words, and livened up the action.
Stoppard's the one with the trans-Atlantic reputation for being a clever fellow with words, and also the one with the final say. So this time, instead of doing a spin-off on a hit Shakespeare wrote alone, he has chopped up "Hamlet" to make some comic point about the ridiculousness of language, and "Macbeth" to make some sort of serious statement against police-state censorship and in favor of freedom.
All this is being performed by the British American Repertory Company on stage and in the first few rows of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. British comic troupes all feel entitled to be considered zany, a word they grabbed when the Marx Brothers let go, so they run around stage like crazy, pausing only to leer at the audience or throw small objects into it. (The Terrace Theater is devoted to keeping alive the recent theatrical tradition of embarrassing members of the audience, the proper term for which is something like "experiencing theater.")
The result is not nearly as cute as they think it is.
In the "Hamlet," grown-up actors in little-boy uniforms smirkingly speak a nonsense language composed of real English words used in appropriate context. After a while, you realize that "cube" means "thank you" and "Cretin is he?" means "What time is it?" The joke is that dirty-ish words are used as polite ones. A woman dressed up as minor royalty makes a speech emphasizing such words as "stink" and "spit." Among nonsense languages, which can be very funny, CAPTION: Picture 1, PETER GRAYER, STEPHEN D. NEWMAN AND DAVIS HALL IN
The schoolboys then put on "Hamlet," using the real lines, but only the most famous ones, so that the whole thing takes only a few minutes. Then they do an even more abbreviated version as an "encore." Like "To be or not to be" variations, the satire depends on a very low recognition level. Since the entire plot is covered in this miniversion, you may conclude that it proves that "Hamlet" is overloaded, if you also think that college outline study books prove that all books are.
The "Macbeth" is being performed underground by Czech actors who are harassed by the state. "Macbeth" is an odd choice, "Julius Caesar" being the usual Shakespearean disguise for protesting modern tyranny. But anyway, Stoppard courageously comes out against brutal censorship, as he already did in "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour."
The oppressor is the most interesting new character of the evening, with the kind of lines that established that Stoppard reputation for cleverness. "You think you can take liberties with your freedom," for instance.
But the intermittent minutes of straight "Macbeth" -- before these characters, too, adapt the Dogg language, as in "Dominoes and dominoes and dominoes" -- suggest that maybe the other playwright should have been given more of a chance. Picture, Peter Grayer, Stephen D. Newman and Davis Hall in Tom Stoppard's "Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's MacBeth."