Hamlet sucks …

… and eats brains, too, in new Chico State production

Shakespeare’s ladies take the fight to Zombie Lord Hamlet: (from left) Lady Macbeth (Kelly Kassir), Ophelia (Erin Duffey), Juliet (Katie Doll) and zombie Hamlet (Steve Sprague).

Shakespeare’s ladies take the fight to Zombie Lord Hamlet: (from left) Lady Macbeth (Kelly Kassir), Ophelia (Erin Duffey), Juliet (Katie Doll) and zombie Hamlet (Steve Sprague).

Photo by sean chen

Living Dead in Denmark shows Oct. 16-18, at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Oct. 18 & 19, in Wismer Theatre. Tickets: $6-$15
Wismer Theatre
Chico State campus

What would Shakespeare think of Living Dead inDenmark, Qui Nguyen’s silly but fun mashup of characters from the Bard’s plays thrust into an apocalyptic zombie gore-fest?

He’d appreciate the concept, I’m sure, though someone would have to educate him about zombies. He knew about ghosts and witches, of course, but blood-sucking, brain-eating undead creatures would be new to him. He’d certainly enjoy the wild fight scenes and the creative use of blood splatter and brain gore, but he’d be skeptical of the sketchy plot. The play’s the thing, after all.

On the other hand, the play’s target audience—young people nurtured on martial-arts and horror flicks, popular music and zombie TV shows—probably won’t care much about the plot, seeing it simply as a vehicle for stringing together the many highly choreographed fight scenes and bloody suckathons.

The premise of Living Dead, which is being presented by Chico State’s Department of Music and Theatre in the Wismer Theatre through Oct. 19, is that three women from Shakespeare’s plays, Ophelia (Erin Duffy), Lady Macbeth (Kelly Kassir) and Juliet (Katie Doll), have been resurrected to help Horatio (Eric Dobson) fight the zombie hordes, who are threatening to kill all humans remaining on Earth. They, in turn, are led by the Zombie Lord, who is actually Hamlet (Steve Sprague) in zombie drag. He’s got several magical characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, including Puck (Sidus Choup), Titania (Lauren Sutton-Beattie) and Oberon (Alexander Ritchey), on his side, not to mention a beast-like Caliban (Owen Hansen) from The Tempest, who turns out to be a country-music crooner.

You get the drift. Shakespeare is merely grist for Nguyen’s anything-goes mill. Nothing is taken seriously here, and everything is a potential joke. Early on in the play, when Ophelia discovers that Horatio is alive, she’s amazed by how good he looks. “Yeah, well, I started dressing better,” he replies. “And I went on this no-carb diet. It really did wonders.” He had to give up muffins, he says, “and you know how much I love muffins.”

“Right, that must have been horrible,” she replies.

This is meant to be satire. Whether it works is hard to say. I saw the play’s final dress rehearsal, joining a small audience of people who’d been working on it for weeks, so there wasn’t much in the way of a response. Overall, the impact of the many goofy scenes like that one was hard to judge.

What I can say is that the set, designed by Daniel Schindler, is terrific. The Wismer is a small black-box theater, and it’s hard to find room for this kind of physical action. Schindler’s two-tiered creation, with its several stairs, top-level platform, two projection screens and rock-slab foreground, works well.

The costuming and makeup, by Sandy Barton, are also superb. The witches and zombies are especially freakish, as I learned close up during intermission when one of them bounded up the stairs to where I was sitting, sat down next to me, and asked me what my favorite snack was. She seemed disappointed when I said mixed nuts, not human brains.

Yes, Living Dead in Denmark is a silly play, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple play. As a production it’s highly complex, filled with action, special effects, dazzling lighting (by Monica Bowker), elaborate costumes, and a wide range of music, including three songs performed as if the play were a musical (among them Caliban’s aforementioned country ditty, which was perhaps the funniest moment in the play).

My favorite among the actors was Choup, who brought a delightful physicality to his role as Puck. He was all over the stage, leaping, falling, rolling and bouncing, and even in his quieter moments—as when he stared at a skull—he brought great creativity to the work. I could see him fitting in well in a professional company.

This play’s not about acting, however. It’s about the joy of combat, and there director Katie Whitlock and fight choreographer Chelsea Haskell have succeeded admirably in drawing strong performances from all the actors. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.