My Brooklyn Hamlet
by Tracey Paleo~
How do you deal with your father murdering your mother, then marrying your mother’s sister – your aunt – and discover without warning that you are no longer daddy’s little girl. Shakespeare of course!
In a shabby room housed in green carpeting, old, slightly worn furniture, Elizabethan stained-glass windows, a painting or photograph of each of her parents and a whole lot of outrageous memories, playwright and star performer Brenda Adelman, along with director John Coppola, both New York natives, present an almost unbelievable, insanely twisted one-woman, modern ‘Bronx Tale’ filled with happy memories and tragic outcomes in My Brooklyn Hamlet, now playing at Studio C Artists on Theatre Row in Hollywood, CA.
Part family comedy, part Greek tragedy, My Brooklyn Hamlet is Brenda’s very true story about loyalty, sex, obsession, love, betrayal, murder and most of all, the awesome power of forgiveness.
Accompanied by the portentous, mood-setting music of Carmina Burana playing as she enters the stage wearing a symbolically blood-red, farthingaled gown. Corseted, ruffed, purled & partletted, jeweled and filled with the power of words, Ms. Adelman breaks her tale in the bard’s iambic pentameter, which is fully a direct parallel to the doomed Prince of Denmark. It is everything dramatic. She is numbed and scarred. Having been torn and caught in the confusing line of fire throughout her entire life, even sometimes a continent away, between two manipulators who emotionally push her to one extreme level of guilt to another. She must decide in the end how she will find the strength to no longer stay silent, and either act upon her desire for revenge and throw herself fully onto a path that will surely lead to a Hamlet-like destruction or to find compassion and become the heroine of her own life with love and exculpation.
One can only begin at the beginning with this tale and Ms. Adelman takes us, squarely and in typical ‘shoot from the hip’ East Coast style, through the sometimes absurd, sometimes traumatizing events of the comical tragedy, that only a nice Jewish princess growing up in the endowed fortune of her father’s lucrative Brooklyn car business, could relate. She recounts the special and important moments spent with and witness to her mother, a world traveling, obsessive fulfillment seeking, bohemian photo artist (al la Diane Arbus with more of a penchant for S&M – “I wouldn’t be an artist if I didn’t piss off somebody”) and her father, a simple, chain cigar smoking, somewhat cruder, self-made auto industry ‘savant’ with an insatiable need for deception and attention from other women.
Although often shocking, much of it is quite funny actually filled with the characterizations and mimes of her parents’ posturing, tantrums and general milieu of melodrama that envelopes her. Ms. Adelman keeps the dialog raw and surprisingly on the lighter side, given the heaviness of the subject matter which she has actually lived through. It is not a heart-wrenching autobiography but rather an expressive and fascinating recitation. There are a few not-quite-so-well crafted transitions during this performance and a moment or two feel a bit skipped over. However, Ms. Adelman’s style is so refreshingly natural and forthright as a story teller that the chronicle is well paced and moves quickly without any truly awkward pauses.
Profound in it’s outcome. Brenda Adelman is able to wield the mighty power of grace and bestow a kind of clemency that allows her to get past the ugliness and pain of tragedy to a love of herself and most of all both her mother and her father. As in the words her mother would say every evening at her bedtime goodnight, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” Ms. Adelman, finds a way to do what is right for everyone.
My Brooklyn Hamlet is a creatively candid, self-realized composition. It was written by and starring Brenda Adelman, directed by John Coppola and Produced by Michael Sonntag.
My Brooklyn Hamlet, A real-life Shakespearean tragedy in modern day Brooklyn is performed Thursday & Saturday at 8:00 pm through April 28th, 2012
Studio C Artists is located at 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038, just west of Cahuenga Blvd.
Tickets – General Admission: $22.50
Reservations online at http://mybrooklynhamlet.eventbrite.com/
La Crescenta Weekly
My Brooklyn Hamlet – Brenda Adelman’s story has shocking parallels with Shakespeare’s play
By Judi Herman
A man shoots his wife dead and marries her sister…
Extraordinarily his daughter finds it in her heart to forgive him. And she is the winner in this unfolding tragedy for it takes his death to set her on the path to the forgiveness that will heal her.
Ultimately the audience at Brenda Adelman’s searing one-woman show are winners too as she shares her extraordinary true story…
Her father’s gun is a motif in young Brenda’s life for her father teaches her to use it when she is just ten years old. By this time her mother has taught her to recite her favourite excerpts from Shakespeare, a legacy she uses in the show to spellbinding effect..
Brenda does not just live to tell her tale, she is brave enough to share her journey to ‘truth and reconciliation’ and the way it has shaped her life, leading her for example to take a masters in spiritual psychology – and of course to write and perform My Brooklyn Hamlet. She morphs effortlessly into both parents and does not spare her audience the gory details of their relationship, or the depths of her own pain… thanks to her winning open personality and the simplicity and candour of her storytelling, nicely leavened with a disarming humour and her great personal charm, the parts add up to a gripping whole
Review: My Brooklyn Hamlet
The Carriageworks, Leeds
A black-and-white photo dominates the stage. It is Brenda Adelman’s father, standing in the kitchen, holding a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun. He used this gun to kill his wife. He shot her in the head. Six months later, he married her sister.
Then he went to prison for two-and-a-half years on an involuntary manslaughter plea bargain. Brenda and her brother sued him in the civil courts for their mother’s wrongful death. The court awarded them $2.2m, but dad hid his fortune so they never got a dime. Then he died. And then she forgave him.
That’s right, she forgave him.
This is Brenda Adelman’s true story. Everything so far, and plenty more, actually happened to the actress from New York, and she turned it into a one-woman, one-hour show.
To watch it unfold is gripping, emotionally draining and uplifting. Adelman recalls her father’s pride when he taught her to shoot when she was 10 – using the gun he would later use to kill her mother. She tells how she was constantly torn between her parents in a home filled with the love and hatred of a tempestuous marriage. And how the pain of childhood shaped a woman whose own relationships were based on extremes of sex and violence.
All the time there is the echo of that fatal gunshot ringing in our ears, and the knowledge that this is real, and these things really happened to the woman standing just a few feet away.
Yes, it is scripted, and yes she has performed it 1,000 times, and written a book, and set up a website and done a master’s degree in spiritual psychology. But none of that takes away from the unavoidable horror. My Brooklyn Hamlet – staged here as part of the Leeds International Performing Arts Festival before going to London – is inevitably more than a stage show. It is therapy, and truth proving itself stranger than fiction.
Adelman, brought up by her late mother with a love of Shakespeare, plays on the parallels with Hamlet – in which Claudius murders the hero’s father and marries his mother. The key difference is that while Hamlet is bent on revenge, Adelman ultimately sought to forgive her father. If any kind of remarkable twist were needed for such a story, that is it.
Brenda always thought of herself as a daddy’s girl – until he murdered her mum
THE scenario of a man killing his wife and some time later marrying the woman’s older sister is the sort of storyline one would expect to see on Eastenders.
But this bizarre state of affairs really happened to Brenda Adelman, whose show My Brooklyn Hamlet made such an impact at this year’s festival.
Brenda insists that she came from a happy family background in spite of her father killing her mother and then marrying her aunt.
And throughout the nightmare and trauma that followed the killing, which took place during the high holy days, Brenda claims the act of forgiveness was the catharsis that sustained and helped her own wounds to heal.
Actress Brenda had already left the Brooklyn family home eight months previously and made a life for herself in Los Angeles.
When she was 30, Brenda received news that changed her life. Her father had shot her mother, a photographer, in the head at point-blank range.
“I really loved both my parents and I adored my father so much, I was always ‘daddy’s little girl’ – so I was in total shock.
“My father’s lawyer was with him after the shooting, but didn’t inform the police till some eight hours after the killing, by which time my mother had been cleaned up and there were no clues.”
Brenda went into denial. Her father argued he and his wife were fighting and struggling with the gun and it went off. Brenda claims there was a cover up because the gun, the one that her father always carried around with him, simply vanished.
“The police said it wasn’t suicide because there was no gun-powder on my mother’s hands and my father claimed he did not remember who pulled the trigger,” she said.
“Nothing made sense. But I held on to that little thing of who pulled the trigger.
“My father pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was given a sentence of just two and a half years.
“He was a wealthy man so he had good lawyers who also represented the Mafia. I just wanted closure, but every time I broached the subject of what happened he would brush it aside saying the past is the past and he didn’t want to talk about it.”
Brenda said her parents always had a love-hate relationship and there was a lot of domestic violence at home.
She recalled her father holding the gun to her mother’s head on a couple of occasions when she was a teenager.
But her mother told her later it was a regular occurrence. Brenda was in her early 20s when her mother decided to leave her father but the quirky bohemian photographer was soon to return.
Brenda said: “When my mother eventually took him back I just thought she must have been lying about continually being threatened with the gun because why would she return if he did that to her?”
After the tragedy it crossed Brenda’s mind that her mother might have been killed somewhere else, not necessarily in her bedroom, because there was no sign of blood anywhere.
“When the killing occurred I kept thinking that it was my fault and that I was damaged, because if these were my parents and I loved them so much how could this have happened. I came to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with me. So I was the one who felt guilty.”
The defining moment for Brenda came when her father got out of prison and said he was going to take his daughter to court. He was going to claim one third of the money that his wife had left Brenda in her will, because he felt the money was rightfully his.
“It was then I recognised that my father was not the man I thought he was; the dad I really wanted to have back in my life.
“And I realised I needed to move out of being a victim into acceptance and start taking my life back.”
This resulted in My Brooklyn Hamlet, Brenda’s one-woman play which she describes as “very entertaining, very tragic and very New York”.
She said: “I found acting the roles of my parents and aunt on stage became cathartic and from my point of view a sort of therapy to see what they were really like.”
Her introduction to the William Shakespeare went back to childhood when her mother read the great plays to her daughter as bedtime stories.
“After the tragedy I turned to Hamlet because there I found a soul mate; someone who had experienced the same things that I had,” she said. “It was really a salvation for me and I owe that to my mother.
“As a child there was always a part of me that knew it wasn’t right that my parents were treating each other this way. I knew the difference from right and wrong and in some way that kept me sane.”
Brenda firmly believes there was a bigger picture that she couldn’t see. She knew that in witnessing her parent’s relationship there was this tumultuous love-hate issue between them and, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, they chose to blame each other for what went wrong.
“I also realised that my parents were flawed and I tried to find out why they were such unhealthy people,” she added.
Brenda also felt the time was right for her to forgive the unforgivable, which is what her show is all about. Performing her play with the Shakespearian connection in England is, she notes, like a dream come true.
“It is gratifying to know that my show opens the hearts of those who see it and causes many people to look within at their own hurt and anger,” said the 45-year-old New Yorker.
JOHN FISHER’S VIEW: For some children having wacky parents can be a whole heap of fun.
For Brenda, it was just the norm; she claims to have had an idyllic childhood loving deeply both her mother Barbara and her father Jerry.
But it was evident from the unfolding events in Brenda’s one woman show My Brooklyn Hamlet that her family was to some extent out of the ordinary.
Not every three-year old has a daddy willing to teach his little girl to drive a Cadillac, for instance.
All credit due to him then for waiting till she was six to show her how to shoot a 38-calibre Smith and Wesson.
‘A family that shoots together stays together’ was his family motto.
And instead of Cinderella or Rapunzel, Brenda’s smoke-piping bohemian photographer mother used to read the works of Shakespeare as bedtime stories when Brenda was a toddler.
Brenda’s way of dealing with her demons was through the capacity to forgive and this is the key element in this powerful story, because only through forgiveness could Brenda find her true self.
She shares with us the privacy of her pain with disarming honesty and takes us on an incredible journey as she compares her own story to that of the Bard’s Hamlet.
Both strands contain shadowy parallels that give this quirky saga a dynamic resonance.
Already the recipient of a Hero of Forgiveness award Brenda’s decision to forgive the unforgivable makes irresistible theatre.
There is much to admire in her performance, she has undeniable charisma and the play is both engaging and deeply moving.
But beyond this there lies a sense of mystery and a mystery that will never be solved.
And because of this it is the audience that is left with a longing for closure.
© 2010 Jewish Telegraph
My Brooklyn Hamlet
Published Wednesday 16 June 2010 at 12:08 by Jonathan Lovett
Before the play begins we’re told this is a true story.
After a lifetime of break-ups, ferocious arguments and passionate reconciliations, Brenda Adelman’s father shot her mother in the head and married the dead woman’s sister. Strong stuff indeed, but what’s even more eyebrow raising is that Adelman herself is the writer and performer, so presenting a fascinating example of theatre as self-help. Taking on the personas of feckless, skirt-chasing father and exasperated, bohemian-loving mum, Adelman also places her younger selves in the frame to present an engaging portrait of a dysfunctional Brooklyn family and moving pictures from the psychiatrist’s couch. Carefully avoiding sensation or sentimentality, Adelman’s dialogue is direct and prosaic. Perhaps too prosaic on occasions, as a little more lyricism could have raised the dramatic temperature and ensured the chunks of Hamlet quoted near the end do not jar so blatantly. But the power of the story carries this through, along with the winning personality of the flame-haired performer who seems to have successfully dealt with her demons and found a happier ending than the troubled Prince of Denmark. May 13, 2010 The Jewish Chronical Online >>PDF Version >>Online Version August 6, 2008 Forgiveable : Forgiveness Day in Hawai’i a Part of International Effort, article by Patricia Chang, Honolulu Weekly >>PDF Version >>Online Version July 26, 2008 Forgiveness, interview by Mary Adamski, Honolulu Star Bulletin February 28, 2008 Tragedy transformed: The disturbing past and powerful message of a one-woman show, Flaglive.com Archives July 01, 2007 So What is Jewish Theater? Deborah freeman reflects on the experience of participating in a theater festival in Vienna. June 29, 2006 ‘My Brooklyn Hamlet’ Turns Tragic Murder into Performance, article by Raanan Geberer, Brooklyn Daily Eagle March 16,2005 Adelman’s story well worth telling, well worth watching, Kudos Newspaper Canyon Moon’s My Brooklyn Hamlet: Love, Murder, Forgiveness March 9, 2005 Actress shares her true story in My Brooklyn Hamlet Tweet