Play: “Hamletmachine”

Group: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Venue: ArtDimensions Gallery, 2720 Cherokee

Dates: June 23, 24, 25, 26

Tickets: $15; contact 314-827-5760 or marketing@slightlyoff.org

Story: A loose-knit band of clowns congregates on stage. With minimal props (a big box, chairs, an easel) they perform a series of skits that in some ways hearken back to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as an initial source before they veer wildly in unknown directions.

Highlights: The stated mission of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble is to “create an artistic home for theatre artists based on continued training, collaboration and outreach, culminating in the telling of stories…as an ensemble, through the exploration of words, movement, visuals and sound.” All of that is incorporated into the compact package known as “Hamletmachine,” an often goofy, sometimes trite, frequently entertaining montage by schizoid German writer Heiner Muller.

Under Ellie Schwetye’s casual direction, her exuberant cast fills its hour upon the stage doing a funky rap dance, assorted gymnastics and even participating in a grainy video played on the drab wall behind the set, all the while wearing or removing clown noses. Well, sure they do.

Other Info: Program notes quote Muller as saying, “My main interest when I write plays is to destroy things…I wrote a short text, ‘Hamletmachine,’ with which I tried to destroy ‘Hamlet.’” Destruction is easier than creation and certainly more nihilistic, which perhaps appealed to the late German writer, who also said “In 50 years it won’t be important when and where I behaved like a swine, it’ll be important whether I write like a swine or not.” Seems like an insult to swine, doesn’t it?

With this debatable subject matter by an off-kilter playwright, the free-wheeling artists of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble participate in a loosely structured presentation termed a ‘media circus,’ that is more theatrical exercise than familiar drama. Feminist elements in the skits tie in nicely with the venue, ArtDimensions, whose Flax Gallery celebrates women in the arts. Additionally, “Hamletmachine” is performed in conjunction with “Gateway to Shakespeare,” which is sponsored by Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.

Adam Elkhana-Hale, Johanna Elkhana-Hale, William Rauch, Rachel Tibbetts and Kimberly Weller are the performers, with Tibbetts delivering the best performance. Her renegade attitude permeates her character with swagger and defiance that are comic in their execution. The other players all lend their talents and determination to effectively help shape the shenanigans on stage.

Fitful, fractured and full of folly, “Hamletmachine” is a harmless enough way to pass an hour and not nearly as apparently disturbed as its inspiration, Mr. Muller.

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.