The Al Hamlet Summit

Rated 4.0

The play’s title is the first clue that Beyond the Proscenium’s The Al Hamlet Summit isn’t your typical Shakespeare. The second clue is the unusually stark set with dramatic ramps abutting the cavernous walls of The Space theater. Then there’s the politically charged concept and the provocative script that takes Hamlet out of Denmark, turns him into a contemporary Arab and plops him in an unidentified Middle Eastern country.

Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam borrows familiar plot strands and characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet but creates original dialogue. He also adds combustible elements such as arms dealings, political corruption, civil war, fighter planes and video conferencing. Al-Bassam retains Hamlet’s signature marks—treachery, familial infighting, speeches and death—but places the action at a war summit with Shakespeare characters voting on issues.

It’s a coup that Beyond the Proscenium is presenting the North American premiere of this provocative political hot potato that has drawn positive reviews and controversy. After debuting at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the experimental drama traveled to Egypt, Tokyo, Singapore and now to Sacramento.

The Al Hamlet Summit is political theater at its best and messiest. The gutsy, provocative production is sometimes confusing and ponderous but always fascinating and thought-provoking. Remember to bundle up—the large unheated warehouse is as cold as winter in Denmark.