'Breakneck Hamlet' provides an entertaining, fringe experience

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — As I walked into the Highlander Theatre for Tim Mooney’s performance of “Breakneck Hamlet,” I had no idea what to expect. I read “Hamlet” in high school, and I watched the four-hour Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. I knew it as an inaccessible, complex plot that took place over the course of five acts, and contained at least 11 crucial characters. Armed with that knowledge of “Hamlet,” I had no idea how Mooney was going to be able to perform the play by himself in a single hour.
But as Mooney would say in his talk-back later that night, “What theatre does better than any other art form is to show what human beings are capable of.”
He was absolutely right. His one-man version of “Hamlet” is somewhere around 9,000 words, and while that is less than a third of the original play’s length, it is still an incredible amount to memorize. Mooney did so much more than memorize and recite the play, though, he lived it. The amount of energy he brought to the stage, and the way that he changed it for the space of the theater or the audience interaction is a feat in and of itself.
Another of Mooney’s feats is his ability to give his audience such an in-depth understanding of the play in such a short period of time. I was familiar with the play, and have even used several of its soliloquies in my auditions in high school. Yet, the way Mooney emphasized different syllables, and how he framed them in the context of his larger narrative, allowed me and the rest of the audience to understand those lines in completely new ways.
The only problem with the show lies within one of its strengths. The one-hour run-time is perfect for allowing Mooney to perform at fringe festivals, and condensing it that much creates an incredible amount of energy and some delightful pacing. However, it also means that a lot of the otherwise enlightening changes that Mooney made get lost along the way. If you stopped to reflect on one of those changes, you were liable to miss the next one. In his program, he criticizes the “modern actor’s tendency to pause.” It’s true that pausing too frequently can create melodrama, but those pauses also allow us to reflect, to breathe and create tension.
Any time you condense content this much, there are going to be repercussions, but Mooney’s performance does a great job of minimizing those downsides and creating an entertaining and educational performance. I would highly recommend seeing “Breakneck Hamlet” the next time it’s at a fringe festival in the area.