Internationally feted actor-writer Fred Curchack loves talking about the gap between the "groundlings" and the "sophisticates" when discussing one of his favorite writers, William Shakespeare. Specifically, he loves how hyper-learned critics like Harold Bloom get all red-faced wading into the mosh pit to snatch back Willie's language from indecent interpretations.
"There is one passage in A Midsummer Night's Dream where a character says he wants to munch the wild oats of a lady," Curchack says with a laughs, "and Bloom puffs out his chest and says something like, 'There are some people who would like to construe this as a sexual metaphor, but Shakespeare was concerned with higher things.' No, he was talking about a vagina! Everybody loves a good dirty joke, and Shakespeare was writing to please 95 percent of the masses with this stuff, while hoping a good five percent would care about his spiritual concerns."
Shakespearean scholarship is very much concerned with the Elizabethan playwright's spirituality right now because of Bloom's The Invention of the Human, which makes the case that the canon of his plays represents the secular equivalent of the Bible. So maybe it's time for a highly disciplined prankster to step in and profane the temple for its own good. Fred Curchack has already created one-man, multimedia Shakespearean performances with Stuff As Dreams Are Made On and What Fools These Mortals Be, which he's staged around the world, and he completes a triptych with Hamlet: Bloody, Carnal, and Unnatural Acts, which he performs for the 12th Annual Dallas Video Festival. Interacting with a giant TV set, which features performances he videotaped in his garage over a two-month period, Curchack plays all but a couple of characters from Shakespeare's infamous study of existence and debilitating introspection. Wrapping himself with a crazy quilt of costumes, props, and sound and light effects, he has pitched these characterizations toward what he calls a "mixture of the absurd and the tragic that you don't see much these days." That means he wants you to laugh as he lampoons everything from Hamlet's Oedipal yearning for Gertrude to the way we surrender our identity at the pop-culture altar that is television.
"I studied dense Shakespearean theory and film performances, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Laurence Olivier," Curchack notes. "Olivier's Hamlet is just hilarious, very campy. And when I brought all of it onstage [in Seattle recently], I loved watching teenagers who'd never seen Hamlet before laugh so hard they peed their pants."
Hamlet: Bloody, Carnal, and Unnatural Acts is as much about TV as it is about Elizabethan verse tragedy, with Curchack rummaging through childhood memories of the tube during the '50s. It's not a strained fit. One of the reasons Hamlet has inspired "more articles than there are entries in the Warsaw phone directory" is that it examines the nature of being; specifically, the gaps between individual and identity, actor and role. The enormous power of television has inspired tons of scholarship too, and for similar reasons: How do millions of people watching video versions of reality affect the watcher's reality? Curchack even pays tribute to the Dallas Video Festival's patron saint, a man known for his sometimes creepy surrealistic forays.
"I watched Ernie Kovacs as a kid," Curchack admits, "and so he had to make an appearance. For my Hamlet, Osric reaches into the TV, pulls out a pair of goggle-eyed glasses, and becomes 'Perthy Dovetonthilth.'"--a favorite Kovacs character taken up a Shakespearean notch.
Fred Curchack performs Hamlet: Bloody, Carnal, and Unnatural Acts 7 p.m. March 25 and 6 p.m. March 27 in the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard. Passes are $10-$15. Call (214) 999-8999.