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BWW Review: Olivier Award Winner Chukwudi Iwuji Stars In Mobile Unit's Contemporary-Minded HAMLET


Every summer The Public Theater's world famous Shakespeare In The Park brings in tens of thousands of audience members to enjoy free performances of classic plays at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, helping to fulfill the mission of founding artistic director Joseph Papp, who believed that Shakespeare must belong to everyone.

Chukwudi Iwuji (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But what about those who cannot physically get to Central Park, or cannot endure waiting in line for tickets? As part of The Public's dedication to community outreach, the Mobile Unit was created to bring high-quality productions of Shakespeare plays to people in prisons, shelters and community centers throughout the New York area.

Call it Shakespeare On The Carpet, if you will. The simple portable, productions are played out on a square carpet with audience members surrounding the actors on four sides. Props are minimal, costumes are simple and a handful of actors, some playing multiple roles, perform a text that's whittled down to about a hundred non-stop minutes.

At the conclusion of their three week tour, the Mobile Unit then plays a three week run at The Public, with tickets modestly priced.

Director Patricia McGregor's sharp and swift production of Hamlet eliminates all references to the play's Denmark setting. Something is rotten merely "in the state," which, when considering how Olivier Award winner Chukwudi Iwuji plays the title role dressed in a style that suggests a young urban black man, might bring to viewers' minds the state of Oklahoma or North Carolina.

While the Black Lives Matter movement is never directly addressed, Iwuji's captivating performance as the prince whose father is murdered by his uncle, who in turn marries his mother to become king, reflects the evolution of emotions when feelings of being helpless to combat the power of authority grow into a passion to topple the system.

Christian DeMarais and Kristolyn Lloyd
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The symbolism couldn't be clearer when Timothy D. Stickney appears as a zombie-like ghost of Hamlet's father. The specter urging his son to avenge his murder wears horn-rimmed glasses and an astrakhan hat, both typically worn by Malcolm X.

With a fuller text, McGregor might have delved into more details, but the demands of Mobile Unit productions generally limit storytelling to the main plot points. The fine ensemble includes standout performances by Kristolyn Lloyd, whose sweet, ethereal vocals convey a fragile Ophelia, and Christian DeMarais, whose Laertes turns from a good-natured jock into a young man dangerously losing control over his emotions.

But the great pleasure of Mobile Unit productions is to try and see them through the eyes of someone serving time in prison or seeking safety in a shelter for battered women. While on tour, many of their audience members have never attended a live professional theatre production before, and the service these artists provide to New Yorkers should be well appreciated.

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From This Author Michael Dale