If you sat through all 242 minutes of Kenneth Branagh's unabridged Hamlet movie, masterly as it may have been, chances are there were times when you just wished Shakespeare would get to the damn point already. In Miami wunderkind Tarell Alvin McCraney's condensed edit of Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, which he is directing at GableStage through February 10, the point hath reached in haste.
In his 90-minute, one-act remix of a script that incorporates passages from the folio version of the play into Shakespeare's ill-received first quarto, we open with "To be or not be," and whiz through "Get thee to a nunnery," "the play's the thing," "though this be madness, yet there is method in 't," and so on. Entire characters and subplots are excised, but damn if the play doesn't hold up with the same potency as versions twice its length, while always pacing itself in an unhurried fashion.
McCraney assembled an enormously talented cast of color-blind, even gender-blind players, most of whom have been trained in Shakespeare, and it shows: the iambic pentameter, with its difficult diction and outmoded phraseology, flows from their mouths with colloquial ease, starting with Edgar Sanchez as a charismatic Hamlet. He renders the prince's descent into madness and subsequent revenge plot with a spontaneous combination of sly sarcasm, Pinterian pauses, gonzo comic theatrics, and petrified panic.
James Samuel Randolph is orotund and booming as the puffed-up King Claudius, and Peter Haig cuts a withering, exasperated figure as Polonius. Ryan George and Arielle Hoffman add relief as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, their screwball antics infinitely watchable even when their characters are sidelined. And Mimi Davila's Ophelia, while deprived of too much of her story, nonetheless registers, particularly in the disturbing, lipstick-smeared mental breakdown that leads to her suicide.
The brightest star, though, is McCraney, whose modern direction makes this classic play relatable to youthful audiences in the 21st century. This production will tour a couple of high schools after its GableStage run is completed, and if the students don't comprehend every vocabulary word in Shakespeare's text, they'll surely follow the story thanks to the actors' unique mannerisms -- like Hamlet grabbing his crotch and making a masturbatory hand gesture when confronting his mother about her relationship to Claudius. And what can I say about the insertion of certain anachronistic musical interludes, such as Arielle Hoffman singing City and Colour's "O' Sister" on a ukulele? Like much of McCraney's Hamlet, it's radical, and it works.
Performances run at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays at the Biltmore Hotel, located at 1200 Anastasia Ave. in Coral Gables. Tickets cost $37.50-$50. Call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org.