Sunday, June 2, 2019

Review of Hamlet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hamlet. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Barbara Gaines. It was about a young prince named Hamlet (Maurice Jones) whose father (Derrick Lee Weeden) had recently died and his mother, Gertrude (Karen Aldridge), had remarried his father's brother, Claudius (Tim Decker). It is about justice, loss, and recklessness. I thought Maurice Jones' portrayal of Hamlet was gorgeous and he brought a sense of reason for his actions and an intelligence and self-awareness that you don't always see in the character.

Rosencrantz (Alex Goodrich) and Guildenstern (Samuel Taylor) weren't what I expected. Usually in Hamlet they act as the comic relief trying to get Hamlet to laugh his depression away. But in this version they seemed much more sincere because they seemed to really care about Hamlet. Usually they seem pretty self-interested and are only there to visit Hamlet to gain something from the King, but in this one they seemed more genuinely interested in helping him. I think we miss a lot of the humor that is in this play because they are usually a main source of it. I know both these actors are very funny performers and have played comedic roles, so I was expecting them to be the comic relief. This version has more respect for those characters, which makes Hamlet seem more cruel when he alters the order they have from the King so that it results in their execution. It makes it seem like he may actually be crazy. Usually Hamlet is a gleeful crazy person, but in this version he seemed dangerously crazy in moments like the recorder moment. Usually that is him celebrating his victory, but in this version he seemed to be threatening Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, like he was implying that he was going to shove the recorder somewhere they didn't want it to be shoved. It feels like a credible and physical threat. It shows you that he doesn't have any filter anymore and even people really trying to help him seem like a threat. He is paranoid.

I really liked the scene with Hamlet and Gertrude after the play within the play. Usually that scene is heartbreaking and scary because you can see Hamlet has the bulk of the power. He is usually screaming at her and she is just sitting there crying. But in this version, she has a weapon that Hamlet doesn't know about which changes the power dynamic. In this scene it does seem like she might actually kill him because she has shown so little interest in him throughout the play because she is infatuated with her new husband whom Hamlet despises. That shows you that she has a motive to kill him besides self-preservation, and it seems like she might actually do it. I thought this scene was very powerful because it made me feel sorry for Gertrude because you think she might try to kill her son but she can't see herself because she is blinded by incestuous love. It is both heartbreaking and terrifying, but in a different way than usual, because the power dynamic has shifted and you believe a mother is capable of killing her son.

I really liked the relationship between Horatio (Sean Allan Krill) and Hamlet. Usually that seems very brotherly, but in this one Horatio was more fatherly. I liked that because the lack of a father is Hamlet's biggest loss, so it was nice to see Horatio take on that role. I think that built more of an interesting relationship between them because Horatio was not just a buddy but someone Hamlet really relied on. Hamlet seems to project a self-sufficient character, but to see him actually relying on someone and not pushing everyone away makes Horatio seem more special. That makes Horatio seem to fuel a lot more of Hamlet's actions because of their father-son bond. Hamlet seems to have parallel motivations from Horatio and the Ghost of Hamlet's father, but Horatio seems to care a lot more about Hamlet's wellbeing. Horatio and the Ghost don't want the exact same thing, but they are both motivating Hamlet. The ghost is motivating him to get revenge and Horatio is motivating him not to go crazy while doing it.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classic characters, distressing but interesting family dynamics, and threatening recorders. I think this production had an amazing lead and some interesting new ideas about this story. I really liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

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