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Fortinbras lights up Philbin Theater

Observer Scene | Monday, November 8, 2004

It’s been a big year for theater at Notre Dame. When it came time to christen the Regis Philbin Studio Theater, the department of film, television and theatre went a little beyond Shakespeare and found Lee Blessing’s comedy “Fortinbras.” Directed by visiting professor Jay Skelton and featuring the talents of FTT majors and non-majors alike, the show is an excellent display of the versatility and need for the Performing Arts Center on campus. The doorway was opened to a myriad of artistic possibilities that Skelton took advantage of fully exercising a great deal of the theater’s potential. Lee Blessing’s show about Fortinbras, a secondary character in “Hamlet,” is a clever and hilarious comedy about the state of affairs in Denmark after almost everyone dies at the end of “Hamlet.” Being dead didn’t stop Hamlet’s father from talking to him in “Hamlet,” so Blessing has taken this philosophy to the next level by having the majority of the characters in “Fortinbras” as ghosts. This concept is simply yet poignantly brought to life, so to speak, as the main characters of “Hamlet” return to harass Fortinbras into fulfilling their wishes posthumously. Everyone has a different agenda, making it very difficult for the new King Fortinbras to rule very effectively.It is with these ghosts that Skelton’s knowledge of the Philbin Theater is exposed. Stairs are revealed to show doorways. Walls open into the Netherworld. Ghosts fall in from above and crawl out from under the audience. At one point, Hamlet is trapped in a color television and, through the use of techno-media backstage, is able to interact with everyone. That is, until someone finds the remote control.The cast is able to very effectively bridge the gap between the classic implications of Shakespeare’s greatest and most influential drama with modern rhetorical and physical humor. Senior FTT major Mike Dolson does an excellent job of maintaining the fickle character of Fortinbras as he wavers and flip-flops all over the stage. While the character lacks the depth of Hamlet, Dolson is able to illustrate the pseudo-transformation of Fortinbras into a stronger individual then when he first received the crown. Though his rhythms are at time somewhat uneven, his energy and strength allow him to be comical as well as emotionally deep. T.J. McNally seems to make the show legitimate as a Shakespearean spin-off. While his Horatio works to share the truth of what happened in Denmark with the world, McNally shows a desperation and sincerity that allows Shakespeare’s presence to be felt throughout the show. From the beginning to the end, he is an honest and real voice in a clever haunted comedy.Conor Woods as the apple-shining servant Osric adds color and life to this comedy. As a dynamically flamboyant addition to this comedy, his boundless spirited attitude keeps the audience laughing. His acting, however, only reaches true fruition in death, for while his comedic timing had the propensity to be over the top he is able to retain a dramatic demeanor after an untimely “mistake.” Kaila Crowley gives a new dimension to temperamental Ophelia, giving her strength in her ambition and sexuality while at the same time vulnerability in her desperation and fear of being forever viewed as the crazy girl from “Hamlet.” Drew McElligott allows Blessings’ Hamlet to share well-placed dramatic speeches that allow for the show to evolve beyond a mere comedy.This show is hilarious to watch, with clever and well-developed characters, a solid use of the brand new facilities and even a moment of philosophical sentimentality at times. It is an excellent start to the new era of theater on campus and you would do well to be a part of it this week.