CST Channels the Befuddled Busey as the Melancholy Dane in David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet


Thick-haired David Carl’s loony yet logical mash-up won the Outstanding Solo Performance Award at the New York Fringe, and adds a splash of pop culture irreverence to the litany of Shakespeare 400 Chicago offerings.

Wearing a Keanu Reeves-homage Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts with deep pockets to stash his hand-held mic when playing with Carl-designed paper character puppets on sticks, and sporting a mouthful of extra large incisors, the befuddled Busey lisps and Texas drawls through an abbreviated tale of revenge, almost all scenes set in “Denmark, Elsinore Castle, a chamber in the castle.”

Busey Skull

Modern references propel the meta-action on the sparse stage. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Busey-isms – spelling out seminal words acrostic-style, e.g. Mad = Mental Awareness Disorder. Thus Carl chronicles the parallel descent of actor Busey and amateur thespian Hamlet Junior’s potential greatness into madness indistinguishable as faux or real.

Carl plays a moment of Buddy Holly-style guitar (a character for which Busey received a 1979 Oscar nomination), and video projections pop up for Hamlet Senior’s manifestations as well as for his son’s well-timed fight with Laertes (also Carl). A film still of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth from the 1990 Tom Stoppard film portrays, of course, false friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Simple shtick with basic lights is economical  and effective during the ubiquitous soliloquy “to die, to sleep, no more.” Carl nails the obvious after Hamlet schemes to murder Claudius while he’s praying, noting the usurper “somehow didn’t hear any of that,” and that “there’s nothing funnier in the world than piggyback” when Hamlet reminisces about his old dead babysitter Yorick. He also calls out courtier Osric as a “brand new character who shows up without foreshadowing.”

And finally, Hamlet’s oft-named “best and only friend Horatio” admits he “has a couple of other friends.”

Carl and co-creator/director Michole Biancosino find and successfully navigate the fine line between parody and celebration, a pleasing blend of original text and modern commentary, culminating with a post-show talk-back, where he also breaks down questioner names into Busey poetry. Erin is Effervescent Raccoon Inside Now, and Jane is Jubilant Angel Namely Everywhere.

Chatting after the tight, intermissionless show, genial Carl said he plans to play Busey’s former “Celebrity Apprentice” boss Donald Trump in an upcoming show, an excellent repurposing for his plate of blinding fake teeth.

Busey David Carl

David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet ran July 12-17 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., info online or at 312-595-5600.

Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.