"So, now you know…" Carter said, as Newkirk continued to stare at the ceiling for answers. "What do we do!"
"We 'ave to go on with the show," the corporal said. Hogan was taking pictures of the plans right now; if they didn't cover for him, he would be found out.
The first scene ended, and Newkirk let out an audible gulp.
"Right, then, Sir…" he said, pushing Crittendon out of the wings and towards the stage. "It's your line once we get out there."
"You think he's going to remember it?" Kinch asked, staying behind.
LeBeau was exiting the stage, pausing with wide eyes as he saw Hilda disdainfully take Crittendon's arm in hers.
"Kinch will explain," Newkirk said, following them as the Frenchman gave him an inquiring look.
Crittendon cleared his throat and began his lines, Hilda holding onto his arm so that he did not wobble from his tipsiness.
"Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death," he bellowed, raising his free arm in the air and pointing at nothing. "The memory be green, and that it us befitted to bear our hearts in GRIEF—" He suddenly dropped to his knees as he shouted the latter word, taking Hilda with him.
Newkirk, Carter, and Thomas all flinched, as did LeBeau and Kinch, who were offstage.
"—and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe, yet so far hath discretion fought—" Crittendon swung his fist around. "—with nature, together with remembrance of ourselves…"
He drew Hilda closer in an embrace, who was trying her hardest not to wince.
"…Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen—"
He bent forward to kiss her, and that was the last straw. Hilda slapped him and cursed in German.
"It's over," Carter said, shutting his eyes.
But, to his astonishment, a roar of laughter erupted from the audience—and it wasn't the other prisoners of war, either. The German officers were finding Crittendon's over-the-top, drunk performance to be a hilarious interpretation of the play.
"They're crackers, the lot of them…" Newkirk said, his eyes going wide, too.
Kinch stared from the wings as Crittendon went on, soaking in the praise.
"What is going on out there?" LeBeau whispered, stunned to hear the laughing but unable to see.
Kinch turned back and looked to LeBeau with an expression of disbelief.
"He's a hit," the sergeant said, simply.
"We are talking about the same Crittendon, non?"
They watched the scene play out, Hilda, Thomas, Carter, and Newkirk, desperate not to let slip that Crittendon was completely inebriated, proceeded to say their lines in a similar, over-exaggerated manner.
"My dread lord, your leave and favor to return to FRANCE—" Carter bellowed, striking some sort of semi-regal, semi-idiotic pose to fit in.
"I wish I could return to France," LeBeau murmured, burying his face in his hands. "This is a disaster!"
"I don't know…" Kinch said. "The Germans seem to love it. And you've got to admit, the 'When in Rome' technique does hide what we want to hide."
LeBeau shook his head and watched as each of the cast members now attempted to ham it up, trying to outdo each other.
As the stage was cleared to make way for one of Hamlet's soliloquies, Hilda gave Kinch a look as she helped Carter and Thomas guide Crittendon off the stage.
"I feel like such a fool!" she said. "When Colonel Hogan comes back, tell him that I want double the coffee, nylons, and chocolate he promised!"
"You've earned it," Kinch promised. "And as for you, Louis, it'll soon be your turn to make a fool of yourself."
"Oh, bon…" the Frenchman replied, dryly, as Newkirk began the soliloquy.
"O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt—" Newkirk said, crashing to his knees and clutching his chest as laughter rang out among the Germans.
"The things we do for a successful mission…" Carter sighed.
The mission was a success, thankfully. With his part of the plan done and the film containing the pictures of the secret documents stored safely in the tunnel, Hogan now snuck back to the theatre building just as Newkirk was giving the ham-ified version of the "To be or not to be…" speech.
"Hey, there…!" the colonel said. "Everything's set and ready to go…" He trailed off, seeing Newkirk. "What is he doing out there?"
"He is acting, Hogan!" Crittendon exclaimed, leaning in close enough for Hogan to get a whiff of his breath and understand completely. "And he's doing a smashing job of it, I should say!"
Hogan winced and pushed the group captain away as Kinch gave his commanding officer a shrug.
"Hilda and Helga are demanding that you double their agreed bribe," he said, quietly. "And, quite frankly, I can't blame them; some of the boys have started asking for chocolate and coffee…"
"As long as they aren't asking for nylons, too, I can live with that," the colonel said. He looked back at Crittendon. "Let me guess—Newkirk's canteen?"
"Newkirk's canteen," Kinch agreed. "The silver lining to this cloud is that the audience actually likes this particular interpretation of the play."
Hogan looked out onto the stage as Newkirk flopped over to the stage floor as he reached "To die, to sleep…" in the soliloquy.
The Germans were guffawing.
"What do you think, Sir?" Carter asked.
"I think the Bard of Avon is rolling over in his grave right now, but there isn't anything I can do about it. Keep going."
It was a performance of Hamlet unlike any that had been seen before—and the likes of which would never be seen again, if the crew at Stalag 13 had anything to say about it. After a series of scenes stuffed with exaggerated acting, the Mighty Hogan Art Players were left to salvage whatever they could of their dignity. The scenes had grown hammier and hammier, leading up to Newkirk and Carter's climactic duel in the final scene, where the duo ended up chasing each other all over the place, including through the audience before Newkirk "stabbed" him and then Crittendon; the Group Captain, having expended all of the adrenaline that the schnapps had filled him with, flopped over in a drunken faint. Carter then had Laertes "die" a dramatic death (it was five minutes before he had stopped moving, though it was really because poor Carter was cracking up so badly that he was shaking), which was followed by Newkirk-as-dying-Hamlet, stopping LeBeau-as-Horatio from committing suicide with the poisoned cup (resulting in a tug-of-war that sent the cup flying into the audience), and LeBeau lamenting as Newkirk "died" in his arms, and then sob in Kinch-as-Fortinbras' arms as he arrived.
Needless to say, as they propped the drunken Crittendon up to take their bows in the curtain call, they were glad it was over. Hogan and Kinch led Crittendon back to Barracks Two and left him passed out on the bunk in Hogan's office (still in his costume) as they joined Olsen, Baker, Wilson, Garlotti, and Thomas as they poured themselves some much-needed coffee; Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter had stayed behind at the theatre to see what Klink had to say about what they had done.
"What do you think Klink will say, Sir?" Kinch asked. The German colonel's expression had not been visible in the dim light, and there was every chance in the world that he would've found the men's production a mockery of the play and the "strict discipline of Stalag 13" that he kept going on about.
"At this point, I'll be relieved if the worst he does is throw us all into the cooler for embarrassing him and the camp," Hogan said. "And even then, I'm still in the doghouse as far as the girls are concerned. They're not going to forgive me for this one."
He turned towards the door as the trio returned.
"What's the verdict?" the colonel asked.
"Well, Guv," Newkirk said. "Survey said… we were a ruddy 'it."
"With Klink, too?" Kinch asked.
"Surprisingly, yes," LeBeau said. "He is trying to take credit for giving us the idea to put a light-hearted spin on an otherwise tragic story!"
"Not only that, General Burkhalter has apparently requested that he wants to see what we do with M—" Carter began, before Newkirk clapped a hand over his mouth.
"'e means the Scottish Play," the Englishman finished. Blimey, Andrew; the last thing we need is more bad luck…
"How about that?" Hogan mused, shaking his head. "Well, we can dwell on that, later. Carter, the camera is down in the tunnel; I need you to develop the film so we can send that information to London as soon as possible."
Carter yawned as he nodded, pulling the plumed hat off of his head. After another hour or two at the latest, it would be mission accomplished, and all they would have to do is put up with Crittendon until Colonel Vogel came back to take him to Stalag 5.
It was a late night, but a productive one—the Heroes were able to sleep well after the pictures had been developed and the information had been sent to England. Hogan, on the other hand, found sleep to be a bit more elusive, thanks in part to Crittendon's loud snores coming from the bunk below.
Needless to say, he was rather irate when Crittendon woke him up, complaining of the largest headache he had ever felt in his life.
"I tell you, Hogan, it's incredibly bizarre. I can't remember a thing about the performance last night, and I've awakened to this beastly headache!"
"You don't remember?" Hogan asked, as he led the Group Captain outside, where the men were preparing for roll call. "As we left the stage, you were hit by a support beam that fell from the scenery. I guess it gave you amnesia."
The men picked up on this and gave murmurs of agreement.
"Yeah, that's right!" Carter said. "You sure you're okay there, Sir? You were out cold the whole night!"
"Oui, we were so worried…"
"Cor, we were praying, we were!" Praying that you weren't going to get us all killed after stealing me canteen and turning up dead drunk…!
"Pity," Crittendon said. "Sorry to make you chaps worry. But as I remember nothing of the performance, could you tell me if I was I any good?"
He was met with silence for a moment, but Kinch found his voice first.
"Sir, you were unforgettable."
"Yeah," Carter agreed. "In fact, you set the mood of the whole play. And the audience loved us—they really did. It's like I told the others last night; General Burkhalter even said that he wants to see us perform—"
"—The Scottish Play," Newkirk interrupted, rolling his eyes.
"Really?" Crittendon said. "I say, you must let me know in advance when you go at it, what? I shall want to be a part of it, too!"
This time, not even Kinch could break the horrified silence.
"Yeah, uh… We'll do that," Hogan lied, as Carter's mouth hung slightly open in stunned shock.
LeBeau muttered something in his own tongue, which Newkirk didn't understand, but agreed with all the same.
Schultz's arrival to announce roll call was surprisingly welcomed, seeing as it steered the conversation elsewhere.
For the remainder of Crittendon's stay, Shakespeare was successfully avoided—mainly because they were trying to avoid Crittendon altogether. The German officers had long since dispersed by the time Vogel returned to take Crittendon away, and it was after he had left that Hogan and his men celebrated the success of the mission and paid their dues of chocolate and coffee to Helga and Hilda, who both decided to forgive them, realizing that Crittendon had made them suffer, as well.
Newkirk had received a mild chiding for leaving the canteen of schnapps in plain sight, but was easily forgiven when it was agreed upon that Crittendon was a different case altogether. It was then ordered that the next time they had the misfortune to cross paths with Crittendon again, every single alcoholic substance in their possession was to be concealed in strongboxes in the tunnel (including the cooking sherry, much to LeBeau's ire).
After that day, the Mighty Hogan Art Players' production of Hamlet was more or less forgotten (it was never brought up in conversation again for the sake of preserving the team's eventually-restored dignity), save for one memento hanging on the wall of Barracks Two: it was the poster that Olsen had whipped up to hang outside the theatre, only Carter had made a slight modification to the title.
It now read, "Stalag 13 Presents: The Tragicomedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark."
Author's Note: And it's done! Apologies for the delay in this; comedy is more of a challenge for me than drama, though I will admit that this was fun to write.