Steve Jobs said that the "i" in all the Apple products' names stood for "Internet, individual, instruct, inform, inspire." And although the products are patented, the use of "i" is not, and Philly Shakes' solo show, iHamlet, an adaptation by Robin Malan, seems to mean the "i" literally as "I" since the show is made up of Hamlet's lines extracted from the play and strung together. Hamlet as narcissist. And a female narcissist to boot.
The set is a chair and gigantic mirror into which Melissa Dunphy gazes. She also plays a black viola, and has, apparently, a considerable reputation as a composer. But Sarah Bernhardt - who famously played Hamlet - she's not.
Shakespeare's play is not merely a case study, and by denuding the play of all its complexity - of plot as well as emotions and relationships - this production becomes merely an exercise in showing off. Dunphy sings the soliloquy, "What a piece of work is man" while strumming the viola (I guess even Hair isn't sacred), and repeats and repeats lines. Yorick's skull arrives in a backpack tossed onto the stage from above, with a big tag with YORICK printed on it (this gets a big laugh), and Dunphy addresses members of the audience as if they were characters in the play (which is pretty weird when I become, for the moment, Ophelia).
This is the third example this week of prodigious feats of memory by actors (1812's Intimate Exchanges and the Philadelphia Artists Collective's The Rape of Lucrece), but instead of serving a theatrical purpose, here it defeats it. Dunphy's voice has little range (loud or soft) and her face registers few reactions (disgust or belligerence). It is an overwrought performance, including slapping her own face and much widening of eyes. When she advises the players, "anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing," I wanted to add, "You said it, toots."
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. Through Sept. 20. Tickets: $25. Information: FringeArts.com EndText