Tiny Ninja Hamlet
Empty Space Theatre
Through May 22.
Actor Dov Weinstein was shufﬂing around New York a few years ago when he had an epiphany: He noticed tiny plastic ninjas for sale in vending machines across the city but, as he put it, "No one was using them to perform classical theater. Something had to be done." Tiny Ninja Theater was born, bringing Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet to (very) small stages.
Unlike the amusing but vacant antics of reduced-Shakespeare goofs, Tiny Ninja Hamlet plays it straight, letting the inherent silliness of the ninjas take care of the laughs without smirking at the drama itself. Toy Shakespeare is funny but if you take the imaginative leap, it can be weirdly moving-a miniature Ophelia's drowning in a glass of water is more poignant than you'd expect. Tiny Ninja Hamlet grafts the more famous language of the Second Quarto onto the more plot-driven structure of the First Quarto, which is an overly technical way of saying that Weinstein knows what he's doing and has built a tight hour-long Hamlet that front-loads the action but pauses for the more famous speeches.
Weinstein plays Hamlet with the ninjas, household objects, his own body, and two small cameras that feed into two big screens. In the show's most inventive twist, the cameras don't just project the action, but they take up points of view, sucking us into the play's virtual reality. One moment, Hamlet is lying sideways on the ﬂoor and having a soliloquy tantrum; in another moment we are Claudius, watching Hamlet and Ophelia from behind a curtain.
Hamlet is an enormous play and an hour-long version is bound to miss some of what makes it great, but the grandeur Weinstein coaxes out of inch-high plastic toys is impressive. BRENDAN KILEY
Spirit Under the Inﬂuence
33 Fainting Spells at Northwest Film Forum
Through May 21.
The new solo dance project from Dayna Hanson (of 33 Fainting Spells) is a self-portrait, at once assured and frustratingly opaque. While the difﬁcult formal combinations-including dance, a live cooking demonstration, and two separate video projections-gel with remarkable ease, the disparate themes cross one another in weird and not always productive ways. The '70s pop philosophy of Bruce Lee, for example, probably has something to say to the manic housewife Gena Rowlands plays in A Woman Under the Inﬂuence (there are all kinds of things projected on screens), but you'll have to draw that connection on your own. Though Hanson interacts with each projection, the images never link up.
But it's admirable that Hanson tackles unwieldy issues and aesthetically risky themes. Her precocious sons describe their interest in global warming directly into the camera, but Hanson's engaging and even eccentric interpretation of their concerns (converting their car to run on vegetable oil and furtively siphoning fuel from alley dumpsters) keeps the project from venturing into cloying Kathy Lee territory. And her determination to turn a panic attack during a college parapsychology class into a spiritual learning experience is both creepy and strangely attractive.
Then there's the fascinating way Hanson adopts and adapts movement from the video channels. While her father practices tai chi on the screen behind her, she takes on the general form of the schematic gestures and changes them into something contained and abstract-something more like dance. Quiet transformations of purposeful body language into relaxed vocabularies of pure movement occur throughout Spirit Under the Inﬂuence. It's like watching a sketchbook artist casually outline images using only her own body. ANNIE WAGNER