By Joan Ross Sorkin
Hamlet in Bensonhurst is a “re-imagining” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, 1969. It is the story of a young man’s struggle with personal loss in a time of war and domestic upheaval.
Harry Schotenfeld, a twenty-three year old Vietnam War reporter, returns home to find his mother sitting shiva for his father, and his uncle has moved in and is now part of the furniture. Harry must not only cope with his grief over his father’s death, but must also deal with his mother’s troubling affair.
When Harry’s mentally-handicapped younger brother, the spitting image of their father, claims that their uncle poisoned their father at the family-owned deli, Harry’s melancholy turns to rage and a thirst for revenge. Harry locks horns with his uncle to force him to admit his guilt, and at the same time presses his mother to end her affair. But racked by his own guilt for not preventing his father's death, and careening between impulsiveness and indecision, Harry’s sanity is put in issue. As Harry becomes more and more obsessed with proving his uncle’s murderous deed, Harry’s quest turns inward as he ponders the imponderables of life and death with memories of the horrors of ‘Nam coloring his thoughts and actions.
Throughout his journey, Harry’s two high school buddies, his druggie girlfriend and her busybody mother and nerdy brother become players as well as pawns in his increasingly self-absorbed search for the truth about his father and the meaning of life in a world turned upside-down.
At the end of the play, in one last desperate effort to avenge his father’s death, Harry meets a tragic end. And although his death makes his life all the more noble, it also makes clear that Harry, like Everyman, was driven by an overwhelming need for approval from his family and from those he loved. [5M; 3F; unit set]
HAMLET IN BENSONHURST
• Fleetwood Stage, New Rochelle, NY, staged reading (2004)
• Emerging Artists Theatre Company, NYC, workshop (2004)