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A timeless, tragic tale of revenge gets an update

"Revenge of a King" is a modern day hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy "Hamlet."

This ambitious production from the Paul Robeson Theatre credits Herb Newsome for the concept and Derrick Walker for music. Paulette D. Harris directs. Working with a cast of 12, some in dual roles, she strives to build the intense dramatic arc of the Bard's famous story.

As with many Robeson Theatre productions, the cast has a wide range of experience, from stage veterans to recent grads. It also employs singers and dancers who aren't necessarily actors. While this can be exciting and encouraging, it also lends an uneven quality to the production.

Shakespeare's language is dense; here the language is definitely clearer, though inconsistent. Some of the songs, which are all performed either a cappella or to prerecorded music, are not completely fleshed out, providing little insight or progression.

The set is basically a brick wall backdrop and a bench, with graffiti by Mike Lanthier to lend authenticity to the atmosphere. A bird's nest DJ booth oversees the stage.

Ashley Dolson as Lady P, disc jockey in residence, is a standout, showing nice promise and personality. Through her radio show, airing between the dramatic scenes, Lady P narrates the events and spins tunes for the actors to sing or rap to. Another standout in several supporting roles is Crystal Addison, who also handled choreography.

Edreys Wajed is Hamilton L. King, the Hamlet character. Wajed is a talented entertainer, though stronger when singing than acting.

As in Shakespeare's original, Hamilton's father was recently murdered. He's actually going a little crazy. He and Afi (Annette Christian) are ostensible young lovers (she's the Ophelia character), but the chemistry between the two actors is not strong.

It's only been a month since Hamilton's father died. Jean Claude (Roger Lamont Killian), the local warlord, is responsible. Killian is menacing by size alone.

In that month, Hamilton's mother, Gertrude (Saggittaurus S. Porter) has become involved with the villain.

Hamilton doesn't know what to do, and he's even more confused when he begins to see his father's ghost (Ernest Cameron).

Hamilton procures a gun. Afi's father (the effective Rodney Dockery) is out for blood when he realizes that Hamilton has done his daughter wrong. The drama is building toward a neighborhood block party on Denmark Avenue.

Gertrude, stuck between her husband and her son, sends some of Ham's "friends" to try to distract him. Nicholas Cofield and Donovan Griffin, as Francisco and Bernard, get to cut up as they urge Hamilton to "Shake That Load Off."

A master of cermonies battle at the party commences. Hamilton has arranged for his true friend, Ray (Michael D. Avery) to call out Jean Claude. Jean Claude, meanwhile, has put out a hit on Hamilton.

Where there's a gun, there are bullets; tragedy ensues. Death is realized to be senseless, but also inevitable. This is a powerful story -- encompassing passion, revenge, suicide, a marriage and a funeral -- and one that deserves to be told and retold.

"There's a War Going On" is a tagged on, spoken-word piece performed by Avery. Its message partly blames society for conditions where single mothers raise their children, worrying over their chances of dying -- or killing -- as teenagers.

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>Theater Review

"Revenge of a King"

Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four)

Musical drama presented by the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center, 350 Masten Ave. Through Oct. 4. For information, call 884-2013 or go to www.africancultural.org.

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