Dale Gutzman’s Hamlin at Off-the-Wall Theatre
Everyone knows the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, a staple in every classic collection of fairy tales for the last 200 years. Dale Gutzman, of Off-the-Wall Theatre, turned this classic it into a modern comic thriller, a cautionary tale on the dangers of greed in our modern society.
Gutzman’s Hamlin is a town “owned” by the Hamlin family, which controls a vast business empire. One day, the town is mysteriously overrun with rats carrying a virulent and deadly plague. The Hamlins and their advisors are at a loss, when a mysterious stranger appears and offers to take care of the rats with his music — for an outrageous sum of money. Desperate, they agree. When the time comes to pay, they renege. And the piper takes his revenge.
Christopher Elst, as the mysterious piper, is at once otherworldly and vaguely unnerving, the picture of both spiritual calm and hard-edged revenge. Everyone in the cast does well, but Donna Lobacz earns particular mention as the aging Hamlin matriarch. Lobacz is steely-eyed and iron-willed in the best possible way, even as she makes the decisions that destroy both the family and the town. Likewise for Thomas Welcenbach, as the greasy snake-oil-salesman who brings the piper to the Hamlins. Welcenbach combines the archetypical Hollywood manager with the archetypical American tourist in ways that will make you chuckle.
Gutzman set the entire play takes place in the living room of the Hamlin family mansion. He used Off-the-Wall’s black box to its fullest; the audience sits both in front of and along the walls of the room, and the action often extends into the aisle. The set is convincingly opulent — no small feat for a theater on a budget.
Gutzman’s message is one we’re starting to hear a lot in our increasingly grasping society: Sometimes, losing everything is the best thing that can happen. Rebuilding from scratch, developing new relationships and connections, and working side-by-side with fellow human beings is the greatest reward of this life. Money is a by-product. It clouds our judgment. And attachment to things material at all costs will cost you things more precious than any object.
Hamlin continues at Off-the-Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St., this weekend (April 22 through 25). Tickets, $25.50 and $21.50, are avaialble by phone at 414-327-3552 or Off-the-Wall’s website.