FORTINBRAS, Firstborn Productions, at Chopin Theatre, and Down the Road, Thirsty Theater, at European Repertory Company. The rarely produced Fortinbras is a big-cast play with big ideas--public gullibility, the corrupting temptation of power, life (and sex) after death. Fortinbras is of course the Norwegian officer who arrives at Elsinore Castle to find Hamlet and most of the Danish court slain, and in Lee Blessing's speculative sequel the involuntary monarch pro tem immediately lays out a self-serving version of events. Soon the only citizens still concerned with the truth are Horatio and a bevy of extremely troublesome ghosts.
Veering widely in tone between philosophy and farce, Blessing's text could quickly degenerate into slapstick satire, but the Firstborn cast have a firm grip on their characters' goals and motives, which keeps the narrative coherent and cleanly paced. At the center of the intrigue is Kirk Gillman's engaging Fortinbras, a humble everyman at a loss to explain his sudden fortune ("Something about this place makes me want to talk to myself," he says before launching into a soliloquy). At his side are Robert Angus's fickle Osric and Jason Jones's stalwart Horatio, who are all but upstaged by the mischievous ghosts, led by David Beninati's bad-boy Hamlet and Andrea Washburn's Valley-girl Ophelia.
For audiences who like their murder in a more overtly modern context, there's Blessing's Down the Road, in which a pair of journalists question their morality while interviewing a serial killer who may be writing his own work of fiction, though the victims are real. Director Stefanie Neuhauser makes some interesting choices in her interpretation of this popular script--most notably the casting of bantamweight Frank Fowle in the role of the homicidal William Reach. But Marc Jablon and Deanna Cooke come off a bit too ingenuous to be believable as professional thrillmongers. Their vulnerability to Reach's manipulative tactics is apparent from the very beginning, making for little suspense.
--Mary Shen Barnidge