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BWW Review: Whipping, or the Football Hamlet Goes for the Touchdown at Callan Theatre

BWW Review: Whipping, or the Football Hamlet Goes for the Touchdown at Callan Theatre

Football and William Shakespeare's Hamlet are usually two things that don't necessarily go together, but Longacre Lea's production of Whipping, or the Football Hamlet proves otherwise. In Whipping, Hamlet becomes Ham, an African American football player in the DFL. Ham and his team are facing the Handsaws. It is only a matter of time before the seemingly normal football game turns a surreal turn for Ham. Something is clearly rotten in the state of the DFL and perhaps America itself. Whipping, or the Football Hamlet, written, directed, and choreographed by Kathleen Akerley, is entertaining and humorous as it is stirring and thought-provoking.

While Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragedy, Whipping is a comedy. It is a comedy which addresses issues surrounding topics of racism, sexism, and much more. The cast is quite funny and their comedic timing couldn't be any better. The cast's joke delivery is on point and solid. What is also impressive is that the cast interacts and reacts to actors on a video screen. Often, it is hard to integrate video into productions as it can distract from the actors but, this isn't the cast for Whipping. The video and live cast mesh together well despite the video actors not being present on stage. Standout performances abound in both the live cast and video cast. Standouts of the live cast include Kamau Mitchell as Ham, Seamus Miller as Beer Man, and Emily Whitworth as the Reporter. Mitchell gives an emotional and gut-wrenching performance as Ham especially during a scene in which he is interacting with Old Hamlet, played by Justin Weaks. Miller's Beer Man is uproariously funny as he chats and banters with the audience. Whitworth's Reporter is the only woman in the live cast and thus easily assumed to be the "Ophelia" of Whipping. It is refreshing to see that Whitworth doesn't play the Reporter in the exact light of Ophelia. Whitworth's Reporter is quirky and witty. She often goes toe to toe with the other men in the cast especially during a scene in which she chooses a game to teach them a thing or two. Standouts of the video cast include Chris Davenport as Ross, Matthew Pauli as Gary, Justin Weaks as Old Hamlet, and the half-time reporters (Annalisa Dias as Amanda, Vince Eisenson as Jay, and Gerrad Taylor as Clay). Davenport's Ross and Pauli's Gary play well off each other. Even though he only appears briefly on screen, Weaks' performance as Old Hamlet is quite memorable. Weaks portrays Old Hamlet with an intense desperation as he tries to convince Ham that the DFL is corrupt. Berk, Eisenson, and Taylor take the half-time report to a whole new level and manage to make a summary of the first Act's events into an entertaining watch.

The production aspects of Whipping are well done. Although, Whipping isn't a "play by play" of Shakespeare's Hamlet. It still has Shakespearean elements to it and they certainly don't disappoint. Shakespeare lovers need not fear as there is plenty of Hamlet references woven into the play's context such as the "play within a play" and the skull. Any Shakespeare lover watching this production will rejoice at the about 17 quoted lines from Hamlet and make a game of trying to figure out 'who is who.' The Shakespeare doesn't over power the football elements of the production. It certainly wouldn't be a football game without the commercials, which are spoofs everything from insurance to Viagra. Stick around during the intermission for the half-time show sponsored by opioids and gentrification. The set is a football field and the lighting resembles stadium lighting.

Whipping, or the Football Hamlet is a play relevant to today and it is able to tackle tough topics with ease. Even if you aren't a Shakespeare fan and football isn't what gets you out of bed in the morning, you can be rest assured that you'll leave the show thinking about your own role in society and how you interact with others.

Running time: About 2 hours and 30 minutes

Photo caption: Justin Weaks as Old Hamlet (video) and Kamau Mitchell as Ham in Longacre Lea's production of Whipping, or the Football Hamlet. Photo by Kathleen Akerley .

Whipping, or the Football Hamlet runs until September 10, 2017. For tickets, please visit

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From This Author Hannah Wing