Review: Heroes and Villains Alike Are "A Little Less Than Kind" in Reimagined "Hamlet"

A Little Less Than Kind

Written by Gracie Rittenberg

Directed by Slaney Rose Jordan

Presented by Bluebird Theatre Company at UNDER St. Marks

94 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC

April 5-20, 2024

A Little Less Than Kind is not the first Hamlet adaptation to re-envision Shakespeare's Danish royal family as a powerful corporate clan (see, for example, the 2000 film starring Ethan Hawke), but it's probably the first to do so in tandem with some canny gender swapping that includes a 21-year-old bisexual protagonist and some fruitful ratcheting up of multiple characters' moral ambiguity. From playwright, filmmaker, and actor Gracie Rittenberg, A Little Less Than Kind, which adopts modern language and a satirical tone in addition to its Silicon Valley setting, highlights the way in which women's lived experiences, from love to grief to ambition, are misjudged and misnamed by a patriarchal culture with a vested interest in doing so without insulating certain of their behaviors from criticism. A Little Less Than Kind is part of the 2024 New York City Fringe Festival, which features 46 plays over multiple venues and gives 100% of its ticket sales to its artists.

In place of Shakespeare's brooding prince, A Little Less Than Kind presents us with Hannah (Gracie Rittenberg, engagingly ranging from spiky to vulnerable to subtly epiphanic), who is sharp-witted, acerbic, and loves, maybe needs, to talk, including to the audience. She also loves Ophelia (Hallie Chametzky), a relationship that some others seem anxious about. But it is Hannah's close friend and prescription weed enthusiast Harry (a fantastic Daniel Sbriglio) whom we meet first, just as he in turn is meeting the vengeance-seeking ghost of Helen (Kimberly Rose), Hannah's mother, while searching for the bathroom at night. Two months after Helen's death, Hannah's father, Garrett (David Cagan), married Helen’s sister Claudia (also played by Kimberly Rose, in a move that introduces interesting thematic possibilities). Hannah, having returned early from studying abroad in Berlin, is presumptive heir to the metaphorical throne of Advantage Tech, the IPO of which is mixed up in the circumstances around Helen's death and Garett's remarriage. By the end of the play, however, Claudia will enlist Ophelia's brother, Lawrence (Michael De Los Angeles), by then affronted over Hannah's behavior towards his family, in an effort to change that line of succession.

Prior to the climactic unfolding of that effort, Hamlet's Mousetrap scene becomes a showcase for a two-person improv group made up of Rosa and Gilda (Amanda Stamm and Georgia Gabriele, respectively), a pair of fashionable Valley Girl (or, for you younger readers, maybe Kardashian?) types tasked with keeping an eye on Hannah. Stamm and Gabriele are as hilarious in these roles–even when warming up for the improv show in the background of that scene–as they are in a great twist on the gravedigger scene. Ophelia's unflaggingly enthusiastic and utterly unselfconscious father, Paul (CK Fernandez)–it is specified that she, like Hannah, has a deceased mother, although she laments that Hannah nevertheless does not seek Ophelia's help in navigating Hannah's own loss–has some very funny moments himself, as when he delivers a ream of advice for avoiding the perils of New York City. The show's satire of the uber-wealthy spares none of the characters over its 90 minutes and includes terrific details such as Garrett being surreptitiously glued to his phone during Rosa and Gilda's performance and their own desire after they perform Hannah's script as their "improv" to commodify Hannah's story as a play. Amidst the satirical elements, A Little Less Than Kind paints intriguingly in shades of gray, as when Harry calls out Hannah's self-centeredness; in Helen not being the venerable figure that Hamlet's father is generally represented as, complicating Hannah's grief and giving Claudia more motivation than simply greed; or, on the positive side, Garrett being genuinely (and to some extent justifiably) concerned for his daughter and her well-being. Enriched by such ambiguities and their intertextual resonances, A Little Less Than Kind is well-paced and entertaining all the way to its great final (punch)line.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

More from the 2024 New York City Fringe Festival:

News: FRIGID New York Announces Schedule of Performances for New York City Fringe Festival, April 3-21

Review: “Conversations with My Divorce Attorney,” or All My Little Words

Review: "Climate Fables: Debating Extinction" Offers a Vivid Fairy Tale for the End Times

Review: "Solitary" Centers the Humanity of the Dehumanized


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