CAVEAT: I am once again touring a one-man show to the Kansas City Fringe Festival, affording me a unique opportunity to review some shows coming to the Minnesota Fringe in earlier stages of development – with the reminder that live theatre changes from performance to performance, and shows may undergo significant alteration from Fringe to Fringe.
ADDITIONAL CAVEAT: While Tim and I have not worked closely together, we are both regulars on the circuit and have known each other for many years.
SHOW TITLE: Breakneck Hamlet
PRODUCER: Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre
HAILING FROM: Illinois
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Tim (“that Shakespeare guy”) Mooney slices Shakespeare’s four-hour masterpiece to a soaring and snarky one-man romp! Fierce adversaries face off in a cat-and-mouse fight to the death over who gets to be king.
Tim is the kind of performer who I often, but not always, enjoy watching – often, because he genre-hops so freely; and not always, because he genre-hops so freely. Generally, though, that kind of diversity inclines me to favor his shows, if only because that diversity suggests that we share a similar disease: creative boredom.
I was particularly looking forward to this one, because his show last year, Shakespeare’s Histories, is among my favorites – in which he takes no less than ten plays (connected by characters and sequence of events), arranges them chronologically, and charges through them, alternating between heightened language and casual explanation of their various connections. I found it both hilarious and breathtaking.
Let me be clear: this particular show is deeply impressive – he rattles through an extraordinary amount of text, all without dropping a syllable or his level of intensity. It is a laudable achievement. So why did I find it so much harder to engage with?
The central issue, I suspect, is that Hamlet is a profoundly different animal from the histories. The latter are largely driven by their metaplot, and action is dependent on dated factors that are often no longer easily accessible – a snarky tour guide does absolute wonders. We’re dazzled by a vast, overarching structure. Hamlet, on the other hand, is an intimate and complex psychological portrait.
He’ll be rattling through an explanation, and a few moments later I’ll blink – I’ll realize that we’re in the middle of a monologue, one of my favorite monologues, and I didn’t even register it. This play contains passages of powerful, beautiful, and breathtaking poetry. Those passages simply don’t have room to breathe here. I barely realized that they were happening.
Nevertheless, the performance dazzles. Tim remains an actor of tremendous skill. But in this instance, the performance overshadows the text – and reluctantly, I question whether this particular play is well-served by this particular format.
Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!