by T.D. Mobley-Martinez
Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Friday Nov. 20, 2015
Read it here
It’s not hard to imagine what you’re going to get with a play called “Gary Busey’s One-Man ‘Hamlet'”: a wacked-out collision between the Bard and an over-the-top actor now virtually satirizing himself on Amazon.com commercials and reality TV shows.
And that’s pretty much what writer and actor David Carl delivers in his manic multi- media show, a breakout hit of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival. Carl expertly skewers Busey’s public persona in a 90-minute play that’s often laugh- out-loud funny, even if some repetition slows the action down a bit.
“Gary Busey” is the second of three in Millibo Art Theatre’s SoloWorks Festival, which debuted in January. The idea: to enlists artists from around the country to perform original work in the MAT’s intimate theater. Heather Harpham’s “Burning,” which MAT co-founder Jim Jackson called a “lighthearted treatment of global warming,” runs Thursday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 22.
Kudos to the MAT. The SoloWorks Festival is an intriguing addition to the MAT’s focus on producing new work.
The premise of “Gary Busey” is certainly quirky: After winning the U.K. version of “Celebrity Big Brother,” Busey decides to perform “Hamlet” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. OK, but why?
“To prove to you I still have the chops,” says a squinty-eyed Busey with the determination of a leading man delivering his million-dollar catchphrase.
Such stuff drives Carl’s part-scripted, part-improvised work. It’s smart: He effectively plumbs Busey’s image as a reckless, if earnest, boob. Busey-isms abound, including his penchant for turning words into acronyms (art is Another Righteous Truth, in Busey-ese.) Here, Busey’s so plugged into the culture of Hollywood’s heroic storytelling that his “Hamlet” occasionally devolves into key moments in epic films like “Independence Day” and “Forrest Gump.”
Unexpected moments like that are some of the best in “Gary Busey.” And there are a lot of them.
You’ll also see quite a lot of “Hamlet” here: Carl takes Busey through every role and the essential bits of almost every scene in the five-act play. He alternately employs video, finger puppets and paper cutouts of the characters on sticks (each with a photo of the real actor’s face). Also, he . er, plays a role himself. He’s loosely true to the script, with some amusing deviations. For instance, when his Hamlet tells Ophelia she should become a nun or a whore, he adds, “Don’t get mad at me. Those are the options for a single woman in Denmark at the time.”
Carl delivers a powerful rendering of Busey, even though he’s 40 years the real actor’s junior. He channels Busey without spilling an ounce of crazy dumb. Makes sense he’s also playing Busey in the critically acclaimed “Point Break LIVE!”
Where “Gary Busey” falters is in Carl’s adherence to certain mechanisms. The first five or 10 times Busey announces the act, scene and location of the coming action – which is also projected on the screen above the stage – it’s funny. After a while, though, it’s just a bit that delays the comic parts. And his improvisation to cover prop accidents?
“I’ll replace you with Nick Nolte in a second,” he yells at the fallen puppet of Laertes.
I get it, but even in variation, it can wear thin. And as we worked our way through the five acts, I have to admit to checking my watch now and then.
I wondered if there was some funny Carl could mine by putting the relatively close reading of the play aside and allowing Busey’s complete inability to handle the rigors of “Hamlet” reign.
All in all, though, “Gary Busey’s One-Man ‘Hamlet'” is pretty great – or a Grand Realization of Every Antic Trait. Grade: B+
Details: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Millibo Art Theatre, 1626 S. Tejon St. Tickets: $22-$25 Friday-Sunday, and $50, including dinner at the Blue Star before the show; 465-6321, themat.org.