Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock'n'Roll

November 03, 2009

Jill Van Velzer in God Save Gertrude
Photo: Ed Krieger/Theater at Boston Court 2009

Shakespeare is always a good place to start. The thorny bit is where do you go from there. Such is the dilemma over at the Theater at Boston Court where Deborah Stein’s latest play God Save Gerturde is receiving its world premiere. Hamlet’s mother has been a popular source of speculation for artists like John Updike and Tom Stoppard for years so Stein’s more feminist and less Freudian take is welcome. It starts with an interesting idea - what if Gertrude were a punk rock diva looking back on her younger days and regretting the decisions she’s made on her way up the ladder. The revolution is over and what does she have to show for it other than the latest war and a son with stepfather issues. The modes is equal parts Patti Smith, who Gertrude herself invokes more times than is necessary, and Evita Peron. Set it all in an abandoned, war torn theater and you might be on to something.

However, this isn’t horseshoes and all of this doesn’t quite make it into a cohesive afternoon at the theater. While Gertrude, played here by Jill Van Velzer, is interesting, she has too little to do but repeat herself and wax nostalgic about events that aren’t familiar or detailed enough to generate a narrative. Technically, the work is a musical with punky pop songs from David Hanbury. But none of the songs really move the story forward and only rarely offer a glimpse of the characters internal lives. They make Green Day’s music in American Idiot sound like Verdi by comparison. And for all the punk posturing, the show lacks much edge. While the copious amounts of grey hair in the audience might have appreciated the reference to MTV as a bastion of youth culture, it hardly screams rock and roll. But, of course, the Shakespeare angle always provides some level of interest and at least creates some tension around the question of how God Save Gertrude parallels or ignores Hamlet. But even that will only get you so far.

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