Vaquero Playground’s mantra, according to founder John J King, is fun, cheap, and dirty. Their production of From Denmark with Love — an original script by King adapting Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a 12th century James Bond superspy film — achieves exactly that.
It was fun.
This play combined the cheesiest parts of the James Bond films with the absurdity and expression of live theatre. Our fourth wall was smashed over and over again as every title to every Bond film was snuck into the script. The actors nailed the fight scenes with quick, convincing movements, the dialogue was half-shouted out of the excitement of the carnival speed at which the story moved along, and the cast was clearly enjoying each other’s company. As for it’s authenticity and faithfulness to the Bard, it was set up to follow linearly, but a few plot points were devoted more time than others, or changed completely. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were combined into one bombshell superspy Bond girl named “Goldiestern,” “Heratio” was Hamlet’s quartermaster, and King Claudius reminded me very strongly of a retired Austrian governor.
Every point made its way home, but the absurdity and in-and-out-of-character puns became the focus very quickly. If I’m being critical, it was like any of the films based on SNL skits — sure, the jokes were great, but bludgeoning the audience with them for two hours might send a few patrons home sour. Polonius was particularly jarring as a Mike Myers-esque Scottish brute who shouted most of his lines and tumbled across the stage in a very revealing kilt.
It was cheap.
Student tickets were five dollars, but they filled a glass bottle with cotton balls to look like milk, and I’ve seen Claudius’ crown on six-year-olds at Halloween. Ophelia fell in a river of poisoned milk King Claudius was shipping all over Europe to wipe the population clean and rebuild his master race of environmentally-conscious boutique furniture enthusiasts, and the river was represented by two stage hands on either wing waving a long white sheet. The jokes were cheap too; as Ophelia drowns she quotes Kelis’ “Milkshake,” which was honestly more surprising than it was humorous.
An interesting dynamic came up that I didn’t notice right away, or at least didn’t consider its ramifications at first: Claudius and Hamlet were played by the same actor. Daniel Jones did a fantastic job, and at the climax of the adaptation, he runs off backstage as Claudius in cape and crown, and as quickly as humanly possible enters stage right as Hamlet in pursuit. It was raw, but it worked for the absurd imagery of the poor guy leaping in and out of costume backstage in roughly five seconds.
It was dirty.
From Denmark with Love was on par with to if not a bit beyond any of the raunchiest Bond films in terms of its cheap one-liners, masochism, misogyny, and sex scenes. Gertrude’s sexual tension with her son was definitely amped up, and Ophelia’s fit of madness manifested itself as a drunken lust craze. The entire play’s puns-per-minute count must be in the triple digits.
Shakespeare is old, and so is Bond, so it’s exciting to see just how far away we can get from the originals while still maintaining the incredible story that started it all.
What it lacked in authenticity, it definitely made up for with the egregiously fun, cheap, and dirty experience.