What happens when you combine American foreign policy with Shakespeare? The result is Aeneid Theatre Company’s production of “Fortinbras,” directed by Ian Stewart Riley, which feels like an absurd rendition of “Hamlet” combined with the hauntings of Bush-league politics and erratic acting choices.
“Fortinbras” takes place after the end of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Hamlet and the rest of the royal family are dead and awaiting burial by their new ruler, Prince Fortinbras of Norway. Fortinbras immediately sets about securing his place on the Danish throne, but his plans begin to unravel and result in the downward spiral of his mental faculties and an admonition of the truth.

This play leaves the viewer with a confused message. Something about the absurd nature of politics? The malleability of truth? This may be a fault of the script, but the production does not take a strong stance on any of these suggested meanings and instead results in confusion.

The titular character, Fortinbras (Ian Melamed), seems childish, conniving, and sexually frustrated. “It’s been a while,” Fortinbras says of sex, which was received with hoots of incredulous laughter. It is also unclear exactly what he wants with the throne of Denmark. Power? Sex? The ability to create enemies from thin air? He gets all of these things, and yet is still unsatisfied. It is unclear why, and also whether or not Melamed himself knew either.
The set design, by Derek Christiansen, evokes the innermost confines of Guantanamo but provides a nondescript backdrop for the colorful events that take place. Wendy Hui’s costume design paired the muted suits of the living characters very well with the vague period dress of the dead, but the choice didn’t seem to be supported by the rest of the design, other than Amrit Singh’s props. The sword fight between Horatio (Jennings Humphries) and Fortinbras feels unbelievable since they both look like they are about to go to work at a bank as soon as they are done. But Mia Glenn-Schuster’s sound design provides an eclectic mix of Russian punk and electro swing to the production that is a wonderful addition. 

What is clear throughout the show is Ophelia’s (Celia Rivera) desire to be heard from beyond the grave. Rivera’s strong performance reveals an Ophelia many audiences have never seen before. She is fiery, determined, sexually self-possessed, and incredibly articulate. Rivera dominated her scenes, and, although the script did not always give her a lot to work with, she succeeds in making her presence known. Blessing’s reimagining of Ophelia, paired with Rivera’s grounded performance, is what makes this play most worth seeing.

The production was also strongest at its most absurd and comedic moments. Many of these were found in the sharp contrast between the energies of Rivera’s Ophelia and Melamed’s Fortinbras. When they are together onstage, it is clear Fortinbras will never have a chance with her. This is compared to the comically lust-driven repentances of Claudius (Michael Takla) and Gertrude (Ashley Busenlener), which reminds the audience that the story of “Hamlet” is ultimately the story of forbidden and repulsive love. Even the smaller roles of Marcellus (Drew Thomas-Nathan) and Barnardo (Jacob Litvack) are brilliantly performed; they manage to elicit laughter without uttering a word.

While "Fortinbras" may be a head-scratcher of a show, the production surely provides plenty of laughs and an infectious soundscape. Whether you leave befuddled, aching with laughter, or perhaps a combination both, you will not have suffered one minute of boredom.

Aeneid Theatre Company's Fortinbras runs until Sunday, February 3rd at the Massman Theatre. Tickets online are sold out, but there is a waitlist before each performance. For more information, click here.