REVIEW: Daredevils’ Hamlet (The Neo-Futurists)


“Jackass” Meets The Bard



Jay Torrence, John Pierson, Trevor Dawkins, Ryan Walters, Anthony Courser, Brennan Buhl - from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

The Neo-Futurists present
Daredevils’ Hamlet
Written by Ryan Walters and ensemble
Directed by
Halena Kays
Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through September 25  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Only in culture centers like Chicago could there be a theater audience savvy enough to completely comprehend this show’s connections between Shakespeare and professional wrestling, the indecisive Hamlet’s crisis of confidence and the endangered masculinity of modern metrosexuals; the actors’ own neuroses and the Shakespearean characters they’re most drawn to. We deserve this show, if only because it won’t be lost on us.

Ryan Walters, from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet" In 2005 Ryan Walters’ band of jumpsuited or strait-jacketed daredevils created their first edition of exuberant “jackassery.” But, intent on putting statements behind their stunts, five years later the quintet are riffing on “Hamlet,” using their cartwheels, tumbling, acrobatics, and hoop diving to illustrate the melancholy Dane’s identity crisis and adding their own autobiographical confessions to this absorbing “afterword.” (Each gets to answer questions about their dads, whether they would avenge their father’s murder by exterminating their uncle, and whether they are men of action or men of thought.)

The audience is warmed up as an interactive game of “Four-Square” opens the inquiry. It’s followed by various action-oriented depictions of scenes from the tragedy: Young Ryan Walters rides a tricycle as he attempts a small-scale Knievel-like jump across a wooden ramp. (The exact link to Hamlet escaped me here except that he was also reciting the “What a piece of work is man!” speech.) The graveyard scene is depicted with the performers naked in black light with tiny skulls lit up as codpieces over their privates. Ophelia’s drowning occurs in a real flower-strewn trough, a kind of life-size baptismal font. Though the fight between Hamlet and Laertes is reduced to overhyped WWF combat, the sword fight finale is performed exactly as written because, of course, the daredevils can’t overdo the original when it comes to exaggerated overkill.

John Pierson, from Neo-Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

These 100 minutes teem with fascinating connections where art deconstructs art and life imitates itself. Buhl, stretching a bit, compares Hamlet’s pursuit of justice with his own memories of “wild play” in a kiddie pool that got out of control. Anthony Courser prefers to portray an action figure like Robin Hood whose black-and-white status as a legend is preferable to Hamlet’s moral ambiguity. John Pierson describes the fasting and sacrifices he intends to make throughout the show’s run (including sex and modern food). Jay Torrence is fascinating by Horatio’s loyalty to Hamlet and depicts it with some homoerotic interaction with Walters. Finally, the show’s conceiver, Ryan Walters, playing the pseudo crazy, roller-skating Prince of Denmark, eloquently soliloquizes on the transience of life and its poignant surrogate, the theater, as he bends over an audience member who he intends to never forget. There’s even a brief interlude in which an unnamed actress enters as Gertrude to make a rather convincing defense of Hamlet’s much maligned mother.

It’s not the sometimes indulgent, hit-and-run skits that convince here; they’re clever distractions within a larger illustrated lecture. What wears you down and finally wins you over is the fascinating totality of this free-form action portrait of a play that’s as seemingly inexhaustible as the sun. “Hamlet” and Hamlet are everything we can project onto them and Daredevil’s Hamlet exposes us every bit as much as it illuminates a rather old script.

Rating: ★★★

Trevor Dawkins and Ryan Walters, from Neo Futurists' "Daredevil's Hamlet"

All photos by Candice Conner / Oomphotography



The Daredevils are:


Brennan Buhl
Member of Barrel of Monkeys who appeared in the Neo-Futurists’ presentation of Strange Interlude through the Goodman Theatre’s Eugene O’Neill festival.



John Pierson
A Neo-Futurist of fourteen years who recently created CRISIS (A Musical Game Show) our review ★★★★.



Jay Torrence
Former Artistic Director of The Neo-Futurists who wrote and co-directed Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck.



Anthony Courser
Who is an ensemble member of Barrel of Monkeys and has appeared with The Neo-Futurists on Picked Up and The Fool (Returns to His Chair).



Ryan Walters
Walters is the current Artistic Director of The Neo-Futurists, having been an ensemble member since 2002. He created and co-wrote the original Daredevils, which was remounted at Theatre on the Lake, and also co-created and co-wrote Picked Up (one of the Top Five Best Shows of 2008- "Newcity").


Director Halena Kays is the co-founder and former artistic director of Barrel of Monkeys where she created and directed the majority of their public performances including their critically acclaimed long-running show: That’s Weird, Grandma (our review ★★★★), called “the best reason to live in Chicago on a Monday night” by Time Out Chicago. She is a member of The Hypocrites theatre company and a former member of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care unit. Kays co-created and directed the original production of Daredevils and directed Fake Lake for The Neo-Futurists.

Other contributors include: Michael Govier, Assistant Director; Dan Broberg, Set Designer and Scenic Painter; John Szymanski and Kurt Chiang, Co-Sound Designer; Maggie Fullilove-Nugent, Production Manager and Lighting Designer; Heather Riordan, Official Daredevils Physical Trainer; Miranda Anderson, Stage Manager and Trevor Dawkins, Official Daredevils’ Intkern, tumbler, stage hand and all around regular guy.

All bios courtesy of Neo-Futurists’ website.


2 Responses

  1. “Young Brennan Buhl rides a tricycle as he attempts a small-scale Knievel-like jump across a wooden ramp.”–that was actually Ryan Walters.

    “Jay Torrence is fascinating by Horatio’s loyalty to Hamlet and depicts it with some homoerotic interaction with Buhl.”

    Torrence’s interactions on loyalty as Horatio was actually with Walters as well, not Buhl.

  2. Sorry about the misattribution and apologies to Walters. It’s not that, just as all cats are black in the dark, all daredevils are the same on a tricycle or in a tryst. My regrets.

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