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iHamlet — Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre

Neal Zoren of NealsPaper

Stark clarity is the thing in “iHamlet,” a condensed version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece that excerpts and reorders Hamlet’s speeches with occasional Marcellus and Claudius added for good measure.

The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre program says “iHamlet” was “collaged” by Robin Malan.

Malan is a good editor who, by isolating Hamlet’s speeches, provides a great character study of this complex character. The Prince’s motives, attitudes, wit, apprehensions, doubts, bravado, and nimble sensibility crystallize in Malan’s fascinating play. The various sides of the character become so transparent while also revealing the depth and piercing intellect of a man who sees and understands all around him for what it is but, at times, is more engaged in philosophizing about the world (his chide to Horatio aside) than acting decisively in it.

Malan’s choice of text illuminates Hamlet as a literary figure and sheds appreciated insight into the play.

Of course, Malan’s work, like Shakespeare’s, cannot be complete unless an interpreter, an actor of virtuosic skills, brings the script to life.

No one could ask for a more animated, intuitive, funny, and reflective Hamlet than Melissa Dunphy, whose readings and physicality are so astute, you believe Hamlet has come to actual, and not just theatrical, life before your eyes.

Dunphy shows the precise amount of contempt, coupled with a sense of being wounded, when she answers why the passing of Hamlet’s father, also Hamlet, is so particular with her. She demonstrates the right proportion of passion and anger in the sequence when she is warning Ophelia to avoid men and seclude herself in a nunnery. Her report of Hamlet’s adventure with ocean pirates rings with the tone of an adventurer arriving home to brag of his tales of derring-do.

The same thought and layering found in Dunphy’s typical delivery is magnified when she launches into one of Hamlet’s reveries or soliloquies. She leaves you with no wonder about the young Dane’s logic, thought patterns, or thrilling articulateness. Dunphy presents speeches as if she is talking right to you, or someone on stage with Hamlet, and she unveils Hamlet’s contemplations in a manner that appeals to your intellect and power of reasoning.

Dunphy is fluid in her presentation, never halting or questioning what Hamlet has to say. She saves the character’s equivocation for his own mental tussles about the value existence and the fear for the loss of it in “To be or not to be” and for the conundrum of taking decisive action when he finds Claudius praying and possibly preparing himself to be forgiven and admitted to heaven.

As I said in the beginning, clarity is Dunphy’s thing, and she practices it to a virtue in “iHamlet.” The actress becomes the character so thoroughly, you never take the time, even in terms of curiosity, to consider her gender or her Asian features framed by hair bleached a pure white.

Dunphy proves to be a consummate artist in several ways. The conversational nature of her voice and readings enhance without disguising the purpose in all Hamlet says. I enjoyed her affability even as Hamlet is asked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they sent for and reveling in the certain conclusion they were. Her castigation of Gertrude as she compares portraits of her father and her uncle is unmerciful yet loving.

“Hamlet” is truly and smartly encapsulated in Malan’s piece, and Dunphy is the one who makes you feel as if you’ve seen a complete play and have all the themes of “Hamlet” to consider for the next several hours…or days.

Dunphy is a composer in addition to being an actress. As the audience for “iHamlet” takes its seats, Dunphy sits before a mirror playing melancholy strains and 12-tone scales on a black violin (Hamlet’s color). The frontispiece is like a pre-show that lets us see Hamlet relaxing and noodling with a violin in his Elsinore chambers before he responds to Horatio’s call and has his fateful meeting with his father’s ghost.

Speaking of mirrors, Dunphy is abetted in her genius by director David O’Connor who encourages Dunphy to use the whole and to be direct and dynamic while being — you know it — clear.

Alas, poor us. “iHamlet” was only scheduled for a handful of performances and has only a few remaining. The good news — possibly — is both Dunphy and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre are based in Philadelphia, so there’s a chance they may reassemble for a reprise. Or remount for next year’s Fringe.

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