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A CurtainUp Review

The rest is silence. .— Hamlet
Chukwudi Iwuji and Jeffrey Omura (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The British actor Chukwudi Iwuji has gained a reputation for being a taboo-breaker in Shakespeare. He played the titular character in the Royal Shakespeare Company's trilogy of the Henry VI plays and won an Olivier Award for his moving performance as the pious king. Little wonder that Iwuji has landed the titular role in the Mobile Unit Hamlet, which is now in a sit-down run at the Public Theater's Shiva Theater. Helmed by Patricia McGregor, and with a resourceful nine-member cast, Iwuji is the real ace of the production (more on his performance, later).

This is not Hamlet as you learned it in high school. McGregor has whittled down the behemoth to two hours. She has jettisoned Fortinbras, ruthlessly cut and trimmed scenes, and greatly ratcheted up the tempo. What's more, a surreal prologue that packs a real emotional wallop has been added.

Hamlet, along with others in the dramatis personae, file along in a cortege for Old Hamlet. It makes for a stunning opening and also points up a key question: What happened to the late King?

No question Iwuji is the star here. His rendering of the verse is superb, with his voice going from a stage whisper to a stentorian shout in a wink. He is more than a vocal virtuoso, however but really gets inside Hamlet's head and registers his feelings. Even when not saying a word, his movements and gestures speak volumes. Consider that scene where Hamlet holds up Yorick's skull vis-a-vis, and poignantly whispers: "Alas, poor Yorick!" Well, Iwuji gives it a contemporary spin and intensity by doffing his hoodie before intoning those famous three words. This subtle piece of stage business effectively signals the Prince's intense introspection and evolving awareness of mortality.

While Iwuji is mesmerizing, there are others who deserve kudos. Daniel Pearce does double-duty as Polonius and the Gravedigger (yes, only one gravedigger here). He acquits himself well as both the verbose statesman and the clown. Natalie Woolams-Torres and Christian De Marais also take on two parts: Rosencratz/Marcellus and Guildenstern/Laertes, respectively, doing best in the comic roles. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have often have been compared to Lewis Carroll's Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, and, given Torres and De Marais's joined-at-the hip performance, that holds much rhyme and reason here.

Timothy D. Stickney and Orlagh Cassidy, as Claudius and Gertrude, are well-cast. However, Kristolyn Lloyd, as Ophelia, could have added a dash more craziness to her character

Katherine Akiko Day's set is Spartan, while Montana Levi Blanco's modern costumes give the production a contemporary feel. Imani Uzuri's original music is at its catchiest (no pun intended) during the Mousetrap scene when several performers rap improvised lines. Lisa Kopitsky's fighting direction is well-orchestrated, with fierce maneuvers finessed in a small space.

This trim Mobile Unit Hamlet certainly makes sitting through the great tragedy less of an endurance test than is usually the case. According to my program, the production has already made 18 tour stops throughout the five boroughs. Unlike the audiences at community and senior centers, prisons, and gyms, you will have to pay for your ticket but a fraction of what you'd pay to see an Olivier Award winner performing the Bard's most famous character on Broadway.

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Mobile Unit HAMLET by William Shakespeare
Directed by Patricia McGregor
Featuring Orlagh Cassidy (Gertrude), Christian DeMarais (Laertes), Christopher Grant (Player King/Musician), Chukwudi Iwuji (Hamlet), Kristolyn Lloyd (Ophelia), Jeffrey Omura (Horatio), Daniel Pearce (Polonius/Gravedigger), Timothy Stickney (Claudius/Ghost), and Natalie Woolams-Torres (Rosencrantz).
Scenic Design by Katherine Akiko Day
Costume Design by Montana Levi Blanco
Composer Imani Uzuri
Movement Director Paloma McGregor
Fight Director Lisa Kopitsky
From 9/09/16; closing 10/09/16
Reviewed at the Shiva Theater by Deirdre Donovan on 9/21

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