Bard-acious Comedy

The Case of the Danish Prince

by Miles Kington

and

The Skinhead Hamlet

by Richard Curtis

directed by Wesly Savick

at the Hasty Pudding Theater

Fridays and Saturdays through May 2

SHAKESPEARE CAUTIONED THAT "Brevity is the soul of wit," a dictum taken to heart by the American Repertory Theatre's Late Night Cabaret crew. The two parodies of the Bard they are offering weekends at the Hasty Pudding Theater together run less than hour long; still, at $5 a head, it's more yuk-per-buck than has been seen on a Boston stage for a long time.

The Case of the Danish Prince, clocking in at under 15 minutes, sends Sherlock Holmes (James Andreassi) on the trail of the many murderers who have shown up in Shakespeare's work. The intrepid detective joins the hunt when Hamlet, sporting a Scandinavian accent worthy of the Muppets' Swedish chef, hops in to voice his suspicions regarding his father's untimely death. With Watson (Samuel Sifton) at his side, Holmes hardly gets to the bottom of things, but the game is afoot for the much sharper play to follow.

The Skinhead Hamlet is precisely what it sounds like: a telling of the classic tale transported into the idiom of British skinhead punk rockers of the late 1970s. The play opens with Hamlet (Dean Norris) spray painting the misspelled setting--"DENMAK"--on the wall. This Hamlet spends his time fighting, swilling beer and watching television, so, apropos of his offspring's habits, the Ghost (John Bottoms) grabs his attention by pre-empting an episode of Wheel of Fortune.

Scrupulously following the action of Shakespeare's play, The Skinhead Hamlet nonetheless observes the aesthetic standards of its modern setting. Going far beyond the Bard's request for "brevity," playwright Richard Curtis has provided the most laconic dialogue in memory. Hamlet's famous--and, in a bad production, interminable--soliloquy is reduced here to eight words. In the economical vocabulary of Curtis' leather-clad characters, a particular unprintable word suggesting the sexual act makes up half the dialogue, to hilarious result.

A student production of these plays would undoubtedly seem juvenile and possibly annoying, but director Wesley Savick and his cast have an unerring sense of timing. All the performances are good, particularly those of Norris and Benjamin Evett as Laertes.

The Case of the Danish Prince and The Skinhead Hamlet are offered through a tortuously-named subdivision of the American Repertory Theatre--"A.R.T./New Stages Presents: Late Night Cabaret"--which aims to give students of the A.R.T.'s fledgling theater institute something to do. Perhaps the masters of the company, too long burdened by endless productions of little humor, can learn something from their spirited pupils.