‘The Shakespeare Bug’ infects the Bay

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There’s a strange infection in San Francisco, and it’s making all those around the geeky, 20-something Hamlet speak and act as if they’re in a Shakespearean play. And, as we all know, the works of William Shakespeare don’t always have happy endings.

Following the success of last year’s “Truffaldino Says No,” award-winning playwright Ken Slattery and director M. Graham Smith are back with “The Shakespeare Bug.” Their latest work, commissioned by theater company Killing My Lobster, is opening on the Stage Werx Theatre in San Francisco.

Hamlet (Peter Townley) is having a terrible day. He has just been fired from his day job by his very own uncle, Claude (David Cramer), and found out that his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany, (Millie DeBenedet) is sleeping with his best friend, Larry (William Dao). To make matters even worse, everyone, from his bizarre family members to his circle of friends, has suddenly taken on a Bard persona following the opening night of the most recent play by his father, Leonard (Cramer again). Now all the world is a stage and all the men and women Shakespearean players.

Hamlet’s mother, Gretchen (Michaela Greeley), is trading in his Shakespearean actor father for the selfish, money-obsessed Claude — who has become enamored of the idea of becoming the “King of San Francisco.” During all this, Hamlet’s father, now a ghost a la King Hamlet, is moping around the city shaming the adulterers — but with a Starbucks cup in hand.

Marybeth (Erin Carter), Leonard’s once exceedingly devoted stage manager, is leaving behind theater to take Hamlet’s old job as the director of apps for Claude’s company. After an odd encounter with three very strange MUNI passengers dressed in leotards and sunglasses who drone of prophecies, Marybeth becomes infatuated with rising to the top of the company and plotting murder along the way.

And interestingly enough, Tiffany is now hopelessly in love with Hamlet. When he rejects her, she breaks into a mad frenzy, singing terrible modern-day love songs as she dawdles around onstage with mascara-smudged eyes. On the other hand, the heartbroken Larry, newly dubbed the earl of Outer Sunset, is planning vengeance upon Hamlet with a poison-tipped sword in tow.

Caught in the midst of it all is the modern-day Hamlet, who doesn’t quite know which role to take on. He is the only one immune to the disease but knows he must step in to break the spell before everyone starts dying horrific deaths, as people often do in Shakespearean tales.

The biggest flaw to the piece is its length. “The Shakespeare Bug” runs a full two hours and 15 minutes, which is lengthy for any play but feels especially long for such a satirical, lighthearted comedy.

Nevertheless, in true Shakespearean fashion, there are several fight scenes (some with actual weapons and one with laptops), a gender swap at one point in the story and numerous melodramatic soliloquies. Taking aspects from “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and other Bard classics, Slattery and Graham have crafted a hilarious dramedy parodying both modern society and classic theatre. “The Shakespeare Bug” is the ultimate theatrical production created specifically for San Franciscan theater lovers — it is fresh yet familiar, full of references to the city that we know and love.