Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Hamlet Lost Himself

Taking risks as an artist can be rewarding. So it's natural to want to take a risk and pull the lever of the bad idea generator and try your luck and create something good. Writer Tucker Delaney-Winn played and drew the unlikely combo of Hamlet and hip hop. And thus came Hamlet the Hip Hopera, an ill-guided beat driven journey through the Shakespeare drama. To put this piece into perspective, imagine if Hamlet was played by Eminem. Madness! But that's essentially it. You can't take away the creativity delivered by Delany-Winn. The lyrics, at times, are quite brilliant. But from start to finish, Hamlet the Hip Hopera had no idea what it wanted to be. First, it was not an opera. Second, Delaney-Winn haphazardly mixed Shakespeare with contemporary dialogue for a mishmash conglomeration of confusion. Thirdly, there was no rhyme (pun intended) or reason for the moments of rhyme spitting. In musical theater, you sing because you can no longer speak. In Hamlet the Hip Hopera, you rap because it hasn't been done in about five minutes. The music by Delaney-Winn, Charles Laubacher, Michael Markowski, and Jeff Nicholson was scattered but strong. The sound, ranging from Drake to Eminem, kept things moving. But it’s never a good sign to see too many cooks in the kitchen.
So what kind of ensemble would be cast to take on this beast? Capable actors who happen to rap, right? Well, not so much. Expertise was severely lacking. Throwing himself in the title role, Dleaney-Winn has clearly had practice with rap and hip-hop. But he was extremely monotone as an actor and happened to be out rapped by the actor playing his dad. Steven Bono Jr., taking on the ghost of King Hamlet among others, may have been a stringer choice to play Hamlet. But I'm sure it would be hard for Delaney-Winn to give up the part. Bono Jr. was a natural and brought much groove and soul. The other strong rapper was Flynn Rider look alike Mark Ryan Anderson as Laertes. Like Bono Jr., he brought excitement into the music. The other strong performers in the bunch, primarily for their comedic acting, was Dan Selinger as Polonius and James Sawyer as Rosencrantz and Marcellus, among others.
Despite the problems of the piece itself, director Phoebe Brooks seemed to lack intent. The microphone usage was beyond inconsistent. There was no purpose or reason as to why a character would utilize the mic. Some songs it was used, others it was not. And for a contemporary piece with hip hop, Brooks didn't even incorporate a mic drop. Not even when Hamlet dies. With lack of focus in the director's seat, the actors were just lost. As was the costume design. The design by Marnie Kingsley was modern with a flare for period, but you just can't forgive when a character laments about the cold and they're wearing shorts. Or when there are safety pins clearly visable in a costume. But that could have been a choice. A special one, but a choice.
This piece has a history. It is certainly unique. Unique may sell tickets but unique doesn't always mean good. Tucker Delaney-Winn is no Lin Manuel Miranda. And rapping Hamlet was not a good showcase for his skills and vast potential as a writer.