Dead for a Ducat by Reign or Shine Productions at the Toronto Fringe Festival is a mash up of a classic film noir detective story and Hamlet. I like film noir. I like Shakespeare. And I definitely liked Dead for a Ducat. It’s an ingenious new take on a classic tale.Playwright Matthew Klein has taken Shakespeare’s characters and some basic plot elements and moved them to the world of organized crime in 1950’s San Diego. Private Investigator Dashell Hamlet’s partner has been killed, and he’s got to do something about it. Along the way he gets tangled up with Claude Moran, who runs the city’s gambling ring and happens to be in love with Dash’s mother Gertie. The show is full of clever twists on character names that will delight any Shakespeare nerd. (My favorites were police officers Gil Stern and Roz Crantz.)
All the roles are played by only two actors, Peter Coleman and Charlotte Foster. Both wear black pants, white tank tops, and suspenders. The actors use signature accessories such as a black fedora or a mink stole to indicate who they are at any given moment. I’ve seen this technique used before, but it’s even more important to follow the fedora in this production because the actors often swap roles – sometimes mid-scene. It’s quite a feat.
At first, I found this a little confusing, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. The transitions were seamless and really well executed, so it was soon easy to keep track of who was who.
Klein’s dialogue is snappy and full of classic film noir detective lingo. It’s slangy and cool, with a hint of Hollywood glamour. Coleman and Foster deliver their lines in the style of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. I thought they both were extremely versatile actors. Whether they were playing men or women, police officers or crooks, they embodied the role. They also had a great rapport.
Kelly M. Johnston’s direction also deserves a mention. All the role switching and scene changes in the show necessitate some careful blocking and staging, and the actors made it seem like a well-choreographed dance.
Dead for a Ducat is a fast-paced, stylish blend of classic and modern stories that feels both familiar and fresh. It’s a ton of fun and worth a look.
- Dead For A Ducat plays at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: Gunshots.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. After the building’s business hours, a staff member will need to escort you through this route, so plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early for evening shows.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 1:00 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 5:15 pm
- Monday July 9th, 8:30 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 2:45 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 9:15 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 5:15 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 11:00 pm
Photo provided by the company