Every serious actor wants to do his
Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet as Performed by David Carl, an irresistible fringe show title, condenses the tragedy’s five laborious acts into 70 batshit-crazy-hilarious minutes.
Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet as Performed by David Carl, an irresistible fringe show title, condenses the tragedy’s five laborious acts into 70 batshit-crazy-hilarious minutes, interrupted a time or two by some unexpectedly sensitive delivery of the Bard’s most famous soliloquies. The subtext of the show being that Busey, now 71, was once regarded great respect in Hollywood. He earned that Oscar nom as the lead in 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, in which he did his own singing, and went on to co-star in mega-hits Lethal Weapon, The Firm, Under Siege and Independence Day.
Then came a 1988 motorcycle accident that nearly killed Busey and left him with a brain injury that led to impulsive, erratic public behavior. After 100 film and TV appearances, the only work he could get post-wreck was on commercials (playing a wackier version of himself) and on reality TV. Counseled by Dr. Drew on Celebrity Rehab (where his misfiring brain was finally explained and treated), barked at by Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice and coming out the victor on Celebrity Big Brother introduced Busey to a new generation of pop culturians. But deep down, as Carl embodies him, he’s still a good actor who wants to do Hamlet his way to show the world he can.
“Some of you may be asking in your mind-heartspace, why?” says David Carl to the audience as he launches into his spot-on impression of Busey (he also played him in the long-running off-off-Broadway hit Point Break Live!). Busey answers the question himself: “To prove to you I still have the chops!”
Co-created by David Carl and Michole Biancosino (who also directs), Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet is a mighty tornado of words, images and explosively funny details, Hamlet-related and not. To play a dozen roles, Carl incorporates interactive video images, crudely constructed paper dolls and finger puppets (all adorned with Busey’s face, but from different points in his long career in film).
The props keep refusing to behave, tumbling off their tabletop as Carl’s Busey morphs frantically by announcing “Now I’m playing Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” or “Now I’m playing Horatio, Hamlet’s best and only friend.” Or sometimes, “Now I’m Gary Busey again.” He plays the Ghost of Hamlet’s father via video on an upstage screen, which is also where colorful Busey-isms, those acrostic definitions Busey likes to spew, pop up. And where live Busey/Hamlet has a gut-bustingly funny fistfight with a video Busey/Laertes.
As he speeds through the play, declaring entire scenes “non-essential” (if only more productions of the Bard would do that), Busey digresses into speeches from his old movies and picks up a guitar and dons horn-rimmed specs for a taste of Holly’s rockabilly hit Everyday. (In the background in scenes in the Castle at Dunsinane, chirps of crickets can be heard, a clever reminder of the name of Holly’s band.) He paraphrases a lot, too, which saves scads of time, and he tosses in non sequiturs, as when old Polonius, lecturing Hamlet with his list of do’s and don’ts, includes “always wear a helmet.”
Impressive as Carl is as he affects every tic, twitch and yip of Busey’s, he’s also remarkably good at just flat doing the Shakespeare. He speaks the speeches with the skill of a serious thesp (even if that Texas accent slips in) and blends Busey’s crazy outbursts into Hamlet’s mental breakdown. It all works, but just as it teeters too heavily toward tragic, he defaults to comedy, assuring the Prince of Denmark that “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
Just imagine what David Carl’s Gary Busey could do with King Lear.