We can all relate to elements of Hamlet’s experience: the occasional bout of ennui and indecision, if not the ghost-fueled revenge. But in Michael Laurence’s Hamlet in Bed — at the Rattlestick, directed by Lisa Peterson — a modern guy finds more than passing kinship with the Danish prince and attempts to use the Bard’s tragedy to work through his own family strife. (Warning: Don’t try this at home!)
Laurence’s protagonist — also named Michael and played by the author himself — is a troubled actor, obsessed with history’s great Hamlets (Gielgud, Olivier) and confused about his future and past. One day he discovers the tattered diary of a young actress who played Ophelia decades ago but quit acting right around the time she gave up a baby for adoption — a baby born the same day as Michael…who, we learn, was himself adopted. Certain he has found his birth mother, Michael locates the diary’s owner, Anna (Annette O’Toole), and improbably convinces her to revive her career by playing Gertrude to his Hamlet.
Laurence and O’Toole bring lively energy to these characters, but they can’t quite make the plot feel like more than an inside joke for Shakespeare lovers. The mother-son dynamic — angsty, vaguely incestuous — gets indulgent, and it’s hard to fight the nagging sense that another play captured this relationship better. Oh, right: That would be Hamlet.
Hamlet in Bed
By Michael Laurence
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Place