Chapter Five: “The Prince of Denmark can’t be a hamster”

Priscilla had, for reasons unclear to her, been roped into going to Bernie’s boyfriend’s play. Bernie’s boyfriend Callum was an actor. If asked, he would tell people he was very successful, but that was definitely not the case. He’d had minor roles in two separate toothpaste commercials and he’d been the star of a PSA warning about the dangers of contracting chlamydia.

“I just don’t think anyone needed to be told that getting chlamydia is bad,” Iggy said after Callum had proudly shown them his commercial. “Isn’t that obvious? Who’s setting out to get chlamydia on purpose?”

Callum had not taken kindly to that response because he was a serious actor. Priscilla thought that was a pretty bold claim for someone who’d only been in three commercials, but she refrained from saying anything lest she spark yet another thirty-minute explanation of how and in what specific ways Callum was a serious actor.

Bernie, in an effort to be supportive, had bought a total of five tickets to Callum’s play at great personal cost. As she explained it, the tickets were twenty dollars a piece and it was close to Christmas. As Priscilla explained it, it was three hours of her life Bernie would have to sacrifice to the musical adaptation of Hamlet. It was funny until she found herself also attending the damn musical. Bernie had originally intended to bring her parents and foist the other three tickets on her nicest friends. Those were her exact words. Priscilla was interested to know who exactly these nice friends of hers were because Priscilla certainly wasn’t one and neither were the rest of their mutual friends.

Regardless, Bernie’s parents took a trip to Barbados instead and Priscilla ended up with a ticket. The other four tickets went to Tallulah, Iggy, and their friend Sybil. Priscilla was about as excited to be attending Callum’s theatre debut as she would’ve been for a root canal. His performance had been subpar in both of the toothpaste commercials so she could only imagine how terrible a full-fledged theatrical performance was going to be. As it turned out, she was not even close to accurately imagining the horror.

“No one can judge Callum for this,” Bernie announced after Priscilla asked what exactly it meant in the program where Callum was listed as “Mouse Guard #3”.

“False,” Tallulah replied immediately. “I will never stop judging him for this.”

“You promised you’d be nice!” Bernie protested.

“Nice try, but there’s no way she’d promise that,” Iggy cut in.

“True,” Tallulah pointed to Iggy. “This is a musical about rodents based on Hamlet.”

“Good fucking Lord,” Sybil muttered from the end of the row. She clearly hadn’t been informed. Neither had Priscilla, to be fair. That was a wise decision. There was no way she would’ve shown up if she’d known it was going to be about rodents. It was bad enough that the damn thing was a musical. Actually, it was bad enough that it was Hamlet. Priscilla had read it a grand total of six times throughout her English undergrad and she was not overly fond. She wasn’t looking forward to watching it yet again.

Nothing could’ve prepared her for how bad it actually turned out to be. She assumed it wouldn’t be great given that Callum had a part in it, but her imagination hadn’t even come close to the actual shock of watching grown adults in giant rodent costumes act out Shakespeare’s Hamlet, sometimes on rollerskates. There was an upbeat little tap number directly after a soliloquy about Hamlet’s dead father that seemed to go on for an outrageous length of time. It also morphed into something of a tap dancing battle near the end of the routine, which in no way made it better or, least of all, more credible.

“I’m confused by this premise,” Iggy told Priscilla part way through the second act. She was whispering so as to not wake the elderly woman sitting in front of them.

“You’re not the only one,” Priscilla returned. “Gerbil Hamlet looks like he wandered on stage by accident and now can’t figure out how to get off again.”

“I thought he was meant to be a hamster,” Tallulah cut in.

“The Prince of Denmark can’t be a hamster,” Iggy retorted.

“But he can be a fucking gerbil?” Tallulah demanded. It was a very good point.

By the time intermission rolled around, nothing had improved. One of the actors had lost their mouse ears during the most painful hip hop dance number Priscilla had ever had the misfortune of witnessing and, during her competitive dance years, she had once seen a teenaged boy do a lyrical solo to the smooth jazz version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. He’d taken the stage in some pleather leggings and a sequin-covered, lime green button-down blouse.

“I won’t lie, it’s difficult to watch,” Iggy said to the others during the intermission. It was an enormous understatement.

“I’m not going to be able to make it through this,” Sybil said in reply. “I’m either going to have to leave or kill everyone on that stage for the benefit of everybody here. And, I think, the betterment of society.”

Priscilla was not necessarily opposed to that particular plan of action.

“I think the elderly woman in front of us has died,” Tallulah announced. “Which is too bad because it’d be a real shame if the last thing she saw in this world was Mouse Ophelia drowning in a forest stream while a troupe of guinea pigs danced with scarves behind her.”

“She’s not dead, just asleep due to remarkable boredom,” Sybil cut in.

“I think those were rats,” Iggy told Tallulah.

“You’d expect the musical rodent version of Hamlet to be more interesting than this,” Priscilla added. Bernie glared at all of them.

The second half was no better than the first.

“Gerbil Hamlet looks so stunned,” Priscilla commented to Iggy and Sybil. She’d moved seats during intermission because Bernie kept glaring at her profile. Now Tallulah had the honour of being glared at.

“That isn’t shock, that’s despair,” Iggy returned, which made sense. Priscilla had expected the shock to wear off at least after the first act. The despair, though, that would linger for the entirely of the play, possibly even for a lifetime.

“This is what it’s like to watch a person’s dreams die in real time,” Sybil added dryly. Again, it wasn’t an inaccurate statement.

Eventually, Callum finally made his stage debut as “Mouse Guard #3”. He flounced about the stage with a plastic sword in a giant mouse costume for roughly three minutes and then flounced off again. That was it. They had sat through two and a half hours of visual torture and Callum had had a three-minute part at the very end. Priscilla had lost the will to live and Callum hadn’t even had a speaking role.

“I cannot believe you made us watch that shit,” Iggy told Bernie once the curtain had come down on the final encore. It had been a sad round of applause. As Sybil had pointed out, it was the feeble smattering of pity.

“Was your boyfriend even in that?” Sybil asked Bernie.

“He was the one in the mouse costume,” Tallulah answered instead.

“Everybody was in a mouse costume,” Sybil returned dryly, rolling her eyes.

“Not true,” Tallulah argued. “Some of those were hamsters.”

Bernie dragged them all off to the cast party afterward. They hung out backstage and pretended they’d enjoyed it, reluctantly chatting to various cast members, none of whom displayed the level of shame Priscilla thought they should. They finally got to leave after what felt like an eternity. Priscilla took the subway back uptown with Sybil.

“Things I have learned today,” Sybil said once they were on the train. “The rodent version of Hamlet is just as bad as expected, to never go to plays that Bernie invites you to, and that actors dressed as giant hamsters do not like it when you mistake them for giant rats.”

“Lessons to live by,” Priscilla returned.

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