An under-cooked roast on Grandma’s 95th birthday. A high school friend’s funeral. Reunions with ex-lovers. Adultery and homicidal fantasies at home. Something is definitely rotten in the suburban home town of siblings Dani and Mani. And with everything balanced so precariously, it’s clear that someone is bound to take a spill. A searing tragicomedy by internationally acclaimed Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer in its English-language world premiere.
Review by The New City Stage, January 29, 2014:
" Written by Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer (and translated beautifully by Neil Blackadder for this English-language world premiere) “hamlet is dead. no gravity” is a dark, postmodern look at the meaning of life. Staged in a stripped-down church space with set design consisting of little more than some scaffolding, spotlights and four chairs, six characters alternate telling the audience their role in a past Event (...) Director Seth Bockley deftly coaxes the most out of each character. Bockley also works to keep the audience off balance, opening the play suddenly and making liberal use of flickering strobe lights and loud, caustic musical interludes. This allows the final scene to be truly arresting in its simplicity. This search for meaning disguised as a play is not for everyone. But those willing to enter a church in order to ponder the meaning of a godless world will no doubt have plenty to mull over. And maybe the answer for “to be or not to be” is even more terrifying than the question." (Noel Schecter)
Review by Time Out Chicago, January 31, 2014:
" It's there they encounter Oli (Blake Russell) and Bine (Sarah Grant), who served as potential love interests for Dani and Mani respectively long ago but are now rather smugly married to each other. Meanwhile the siblings' mother, Caro (Lona Livingston), is beginning to obsess over her own mother's refusal to die already, while their father, Kurt (John Fenner Mays), is distracted by death in a different way. (...) Yet that's just one takeaway from a script that, at least in Neil Blackadder's English translation, is weighted down with words, words, words: repetitive riffs on happiness as an economic function, jerking off as an act of hope and a recurring leitmotif of changing axes—X vs. Y, lengthwise vs. breadthwise. It can feel more than a little impenetrable, particularly in the first half, but picks up a jolt of energy midway through that carries to the end. (...) Bockley's striking staging makes full use of the basketball-court length (or is that breadth?) of Red Tape's church gymnasium space, which the company reports it will sadly be losing after this production as the church goes in another direction. Seating the audience at one end and outfitting the full depth in matte black and flourescent tube lighting, Bockley and his cast achieve an evocative blend of naturalism and heightened movement. (Kris Vire)
Review by Chicago Reader, February 5th, 2014:
" Palmetshofer's piece is more abstract than the others (which have already been reviewed by Reader critics), first of all because it's got nothing to do with Hamlet except insofar as it seems to breathe out vapors from the Shakespearean tragedy, evoking, reconfiguring, and occasionally inverting some of its themes and dynamics. Second, because Seth Bockley's staging of it is so rigorously antinaturalistic—a matter of six actors moving in neatly choreographed geometric patterns on a nearly bare stage lit by lines of fluorescent tubes.
A little surprisingly, however, Hamlet Is Dead does have a narrative. Twentysomething siblings Dani and Mani run into their former friends Oli and Bine at the funeral of another friend, Hannes, who died violently, his own father having shot him before committing suicide. The bond between the surviving four was broken sometime back, when Bine and Oli paired off romantically, leaving Dani and Mani as odd lovers out, with nobody to court but each other, and hence no socially acceptable way to free themselves from the extended adolescence they endure in the home of their deluded, angry parents.
As the only one who's benefitted from the way matters have turned out, Bine insists on getting the old quartet together again. Naturally, it doesn't go well. Nothing goes well. The story ends up folding back on itself with an awful symmetry suggesting The Mousetrap, Hamlet's play within a clarity. Just for good measure, Palmetshofer supplies a coda that magnifies the awfulness of it all while demonstrating the truth of Karl Marx's epigram that "history repeats, first as tragedy and then as farce."
If all of this is hard to watch, it's not through any fault of Neil Blackadder's excellent English translation, Bockley's austere staging, or an ensemble that manages to give us characters who feel true without getting even a little bit sentimental about it. It's because Palmesthofer never surrenders his rigor. His script is a labyrinth of Mousetraps: moments unfolding inside moments, realities intersecting dreams that breed new and uglier realities. His point is complex and, yes, pitiless as he exposes the structure of alienation. He's the right man for the job." (Tony Adler)
Review by The Chicago Tribune, February 3, 2014
All right, so you don't find Palmetshofer on many stateside marquees (although this play from the emerging writer did make a bit of a splash in Austria and Germany). In fact, "Hamlet is Dead" is the first U.S. production of this 2007 work, "Hamlet ist Tot. Keine Schwerkraft." The piece has been newly translated by Neil Blackadder, a savvy professor (with a Pythonesque name) at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. The kaput Dane certainly is not for all tastes (and not always easy to follow). And director Seth Bockley's production certainly flirts with some of the cliches of the genre — including a tiny little audience area located on raw risers at one end of the gym inside St. Peter's (leaving about eight times the space for the cast), ample use of florescent lighting and a general starkness to the proceedings. (...) But if you're up for a trip into the existential realm, this is a very stimulating 90 minutes. And it's not unsexy. Nor is it dull. ( Chris Jones)