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A CurtainUp Review

"I don't want to be nothing. I want to be Hamlet. Maybe I'm too small for the part."" — Hamnet
Quantum tunneling is the phenomenon of an object passing through a barrier through which it should be possible to pass. At least that’s what Siri says. The boy believes that if he throws his ball at the wall infinity times, one time it will go through. And maybe, just one time, if he speaks to strangers and tells his story enough, his dad will finally show up and answer.

No, there was no Siri and no one was talking about quantum tunneling when Hamnet Shakespeare was born in 1585. But Hamnet, played maturely with a mix of grim optimism and snarky despair by Aran Murphy in his professional debut, has been stuck at eleven for a long, long time.

This sweetly disturbing show, from the Irish company Dead Centre, makes its way to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a limited run. Other Dead Centre plays under the artistic direction of Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel have included similar excavations of the lives of playwrights like Beckett and Chekhov.

But there’s something particularly monumental about the small figure of doomed Hamnet, Shakespeare’s lost son forever enshrined one letter away from Shakespeare’s richest character — one who pulsates with the inner adult life Hamnet never got the chance to lead. When he tells people his name, Hamnet explains, they hear an l instead of an i .

The empty playing space,bare except for a back wall projecting the audience back at itself, hides a bag of unexpected stage tricks which reveal themselves subtly and sometimes shockingly. The ghost of Shakespeare — or are we and Hamnet the ghosts? — appears as a hologram on the screen superimposed over the audience’s live images. Less subtle are the winking Shakespeare quotes from plays other than Hamlet (the recurrence of Lear’s dying, “Never, never, never, never, never” seems a little too on-the-nose).

Ultimately, it’s the mesmerizing stagecraft (the video work is by Jose Miguel Jimenez) and Murphy’s winning performance that keeps Hamnet afloat when the play starts to pad out its sixty minutes of playing time. When the destructive impact of Trump’s rhetoric on the innocence of young children starts to become a central theme, the script’s clarity begins to fade.

But there’s also quiet devastation in the Shakespeares’ family story, the boy who never really got to know his famous father and the father who thought he’d have time to see his son grow up.

“I was going to leave it all to you,” Hamnet imagines William would say. “Turns out you were a bad investment.”

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Text by Bush Moukarzel, Ben Kidd, and William Shakespeare
Cast: Aran Murphy
Set Design: Andrew Clancy
Costume Design: Grace O'Hara
Lighting Design: Stephen Dodd
Sound Design: Kevin Gleeson
Video Design: Jose Miguel Jimenez
Choreography: Liv O'Donoghue
Running Time: 1 hour, no intermission
Brooklyn Academy of Music, Fishman Space, 321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY
From 10/30/19; closing 11/3/19
Reviewed by Dan Rubins at 10/31 performance

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