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Syrian political satire premieres at Cornell

October 30, 2017

"Hamlet Wakes Up Late," a biting political satire of Shakespeare's tragedy by renowned Syrian poet and playwright Mamduh Adwan, will have its English-language premiere this month at the Schwartz Center. The production, translated by Margaret Litvin and directed by Rebekah Maggor, assistant professor in the Department of Performing Media Arts, will feature original music, dancing, action-packed scenes, humor and extravagant costumes. Performances are Nov. 10, 11, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the  Flex Theatre.

In Adwan’s adaptation, Hamlet is a narcissistic prince, blissfully unaware of his people's bleak reality. Distracted by drink and artistic pretentions, Hamlet fails to notice the rise of a brutal plutocratic dictatorship.

Maggor was inspired to bring ther play to Cornell after directing a reading of the play in New York City. “The play resonated with our U.S. audience. They found it both politically provocative and highly entertaining,” Maggor said

Allen Porterie ‘20, who plays Hamlet, says that the themes of the play are particularly meaningful within the context of the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States today. “We often ignore and even discredit experiences that are not our own, which places us in parallel realities in this nation.” Porterie said. “Adwan poignantly highlights this phenomenon through the ‘unwokeness’ of Prince Hamlet. In the midst of political turmoil and the suffering of working people, Hamlet remains focused only on issues that directly affect him. Unfortunately, he finds out too late that ignorance is not bliss.”

The PMA production brings together undergraduates, graduate students and faculty from the United States, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Ecuador, Nigeria, Singapore, China, Greece and India. The student cast and crew study at schools across Cornell’s campus, including the College of Arts  Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Life Science, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Hotel School.

“It’s astonishing,” said Christopher Morales ’20, who plays Fortinbras, “how many cultural perspectives are contributing to the vision of this show. In a time of increasingly hateful rhetoric, this production is a special reminder of the true character of the Cornell community.”

The production features original music by Syrian-American composer and artist-in-residence Kinan Abou-afach. A cast of 14 student actors and dancers are joined on stage by local musicians Max Buckholtz, Zoe Weiss, Matthew Ocone and Avner Finberg, and two members of the Cornell fencing team. The show features dance choreography by Niara Hardister ‘18 with PMA Senior Lecturer Jumay Chu, fight choreography by Jacob Lehman, costumes by PMA Senior Lectuer Sarah Bernstein, scenic design by PMA Professor Kent Goetz, lighting design by PMA Senior Lecturer Edward Intemann, sound design by Kelley Mark ‘18 with PMA Senior Lecturer Warren Cross, property design by Tim Ostrander and stage management by Howard Klein.

The evening performances on Nov. 10, 11, 16, and 18 will be followed by post-show discussions with Maggor in conversation with a Cornell faculty member or guest scholar. The panel discussions will offer political and cultural contexts for the play and an exploration of international drama in translation and global Shakespeare.

"Hamlet Wakes Up Late" is cosponsored by the Society for the Humanities, Cornell Council for the Arts, Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Departments of Near Eastern Studies, Government, Comparative Literature, and Music, American Studies Program, and the Carl Becker House.

For tickets, visit www.schwartztickets.com.

Photo: From left to right: Janilya Baizack '17 as the Queen, Allen Porterie '20 as Hamlet, Sydney Wolfe '20 as Ophelia. Photos by Rachel Philipson, costume and makeup design by Sarah Berstein.

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