What is a son without a father? What is a father without a son? Those questions are at the heart of Dead Centre’s Hamnet, making its New York premiere this week at BAM. The sixty-minute multimedia show is part of new BAM artistic director David Binder’s inaugural Next Wave Festival consisting exclusively of BAM debuts, and this one is highlighted by a dynamite performance by Aran Murphy as the title character, in his professional acting debut. Murphy is a contemporary Hamnet, William Shakespeare’s only son, who died tragically in 1596 at the age of eleven. The boy is dressed in modern clothes, carries around a backpack, and regularly asks Google for information; it’s as if he’s been searching for his father, who abandoned him and his twin sister, Judith, and their mother, Anne Hathaway, in order to write his plays, for more than four hundred years. “To be, or not to be,” he declares several times, hoping that maybe his dad’s writings will help him find him.
Written and directed by Dead Centre founders Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, Hamnet features a large screen at the back of the stage, where the audience is live-streamed through most of the show. Jose Miguel Jimenez’s innovative video design and Liv O’Donoghue’s choreography form a kind of magic as Hamnet roams Andrew Clancy’s set, sometimes disappearing onscreen even though he is right in front of us, or vice versa, and growing even more complex and eerie when the ghost of his father (Moukarzel) appears. The narrative at times becomes murky and confusing, but the technical wizardry and Murphy’s astounding portrayal overshadow its shortcomings. “Who would fardels bear, / To grunt and sweat under a weary life, / But that the dread of something after death, / The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will, / And makes us rather bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of?” Hamlet asks. Hamnet is a hypnotic puzzle about death, grief, and personal identity, albeit one that is not easily unravele’d.
After seeing Hamnet, make your way around the corner to BAM’s main home, the Peter Jay Sharp Building, which houses the Howard Gilman Opera House, to catch the world premiere of Dumbworld and Irish National Opera’s He Did What? The ten-minute animated film, conceived and created by Brian Irvine and John McIlduff with video by Killan Waters and Conan McIvor, is projected onto the facade of the building at the corner of Lafayette Ave. and St. Felix St. The audience is given headsets through which they hear the hysterical story of three alter kockers with walkers parading slowly down the street, a man followed by two women. The two women are gossiping about him, as his wife recently caught him in bed with another woman and is deciding what to do about it. The characters are sung by Doreen Curran, Sylvia O’Brien, and Dan Reardon, with music composed by Irvine and played by the RTE Concert Orchestra, conducted by Fergus Shiel. The piece was written and directed by McIlduff; the riotous words also appear on the wall in goofy, graffiti-like type, complementing KAWS’s BAM mural and David Byrne’s bike rack across the street. While Hamnet will have you wondering, “How did they do that?,” the free presentation of He Did What?, running 7:00 to 10:00 nightly through November 2, will have you saying again and again, “He did what?” as well as “Oh no she didn’t. Oh yes she did.”