Here's all Hamlet novices need to know: Hamlet's father, the king of Denmark, has died, and his mother, Gertrude, is soon remarried (the wedding "followed hard upon" the funeral) to her dead spouse's brother. A fragile ingenue named Ophelia thinks Hamlet is her boyfriend but he isn't, because he's too busy taking a ghost's advice that he dispose of his new stepfather. Cohn is more or less faithful to this blueprint but zestfully jerks it around in ways that recall such visionaries as Jackson Pollock, Julie Taymor and Dr. Seuss.
Each actor takes turns as Hamlet's narrator, and the division of labor is cleverly defined by the addition of an amazing prop. It is a grocery cart souped up like a flashy stock car; attached to is a little spotlight and a microphone, and it holds all kinds of noisemakers, from maracas to a cat's squeeze toy. After the "good night, sweet prince" that closes the play, the actors fill the cart with the candles, costume pieces and pom-poms from earlier in the evening and mournfully exit as one globular, sixteen-legged being. The scene is moving for what it ends as much as for what it portends -- chiefly, that Evaporated Milk Society is going somewhere unique.
Adding to the play's cacophonous energy are the sequential Hamlets. Seven of the eight actors play him at various points -- and all of them deliver the "to be or not to be" speech in unison. At least three of them also play Gertrude. Cohn sees their genders as inconsequential, blurring the lines in a way that is brashly sexy. When the males play females, they merely don slips, though there's nothing drag-queeny about it. It's like a Hamlet staged on a deserted island by the last actors alive; they have no recourse but to share roles.
The show is "created and performed by" the charismatic troupe of Rita Brinkerhoff, Megan Downes, Ruth Dyer, Steven Fishell, Laura Frank, Susan Garrett, Jeremiah Price and David Stinnett. Brinkerhoff, Dyer and Stinnett wrote the original music and lyrics for the occasional songs, two of which are beautiful. The cast and director range in age from nineteen to, at the most, their midtwenties, and it's what makes the experiment work. Seldom are the follies of youth so intensely focused.