How To Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet

By John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger; Directed by John Kurzynowski
Produced by Theater Reconstruction Ensemble 

Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.14.17
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue

by Ran Xia on 4.2.17

How to HamletJoshua William Gelb, Emily Marro, Nathaniel Basch-Gould, and Sam Corbin in How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet. Photo by Suzi Sadler.

BOTTOM LINE: Theater Reconstruction Ensemble tackles the essence of Hamlet in a way that is high concept, high context, and thoroughly delightful.

It dawns on the actors that they are in the show that they have supposedly come to see.

Theater Reconstruction Ensemble's four actors start to Hamlet (v.) Hamlet (n.) while still seated in the audience. As the lights go down for the rest of the room, the group goes "behind" the fourth wall with a flip of their distinctive chairs: they argue, extrapolate, and eventually define their approach to using "Hamlet" as a verb. They conclude: "Hamleting could be a way of describing the essential qualities of Hamlet," and go on to recount the story of world's most indecisive Danish prince at a rapid fire pace, before putting on their respective period costumes, and easing into their dramatic narrative. 

The next 70 minutes is a condensed reenactment of Hamlet with both original text and paraphrases filled with modern references. The four start ceremoniously ("Who's there?"), in a way that almost resembles a seance, hands linked, making a collective attempt to conjure the spirit of the play itself. Sam is the first to be "possessed," in that she delivers portions of the play as if during an out-of-body experience. Over time, each of the performers experiences similar spurts as the ghost of Hamlet (the play) finds its spotlight. The contrast is significant: the core of the group's reenactment is the deliberate exaggeration of clowning, yet the seriousness of the play, or, as they say, the "essential quality" of Hamlet, bleeds through the ridiculousness, and underscores crucial moments of the drama with what seems like a supernatural force. Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb, and Emily Marro are truly versatile performers; guided by director John Kurzynowski, they transition seamlessly between playing "themselves" and various characters in Hamlet, creating perfect chaos as they figure out how to tackle a canon, as well as moments of beautiful melancholy when "moments of essence" blossom.

How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet is a high-concept production that would be most appreciated by seasoned Shakespearean connoisseurs because of its deep-cut references. Audience members who might not remember every detail of Hamlet could feel left out on this inside-joke heavy production. It is still an exhilarating and truly original take on a classic; its team of masterful actors and designers also impress with their craft. As in their previous production, You On the Moors Now, Theater Reconstruction Ensemble pushes the boundaries of theatrical genres with this thoroughly experimental piece, which would delight theatre makers or audiences who are willing to embrace new possibilities. 

(How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet plays at HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, through April 14, 2017. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 7; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $18 and are available at or by calling 212-352-3101.)

How to Hamlet, or Hamleting Hamlet is by John Kurzynowski and Jon Riddleberger. Conceived and Directed by John Kurzynowski. Associate Director is Lauren Swan-Potras. Sound Design is by Kate Marvin and Alex Hawthorn. Production Design is by Marika Kent. Production Manager is Markus Paminger. Stage Manager is Julia Levine.

The cast is Nathaniel Basch-Gould, Sam Corbin, Joshua William Gelb, and Emily Marro.