A Chicago Shakespeare Theater production in two acts of a play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Terry Hands. Set and costumes, Mark Bailey: lighting, Terry Hands; music, Colin Towns; sound, James Savage; fight choreography, Robin H. McFarquhar: production stage manager, Jennifer Matheson Collins. Opened, reviewed Sept. 10, 2006; runs through Nov. 18. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.
Captain Bill Bannon
Gravedigger #2 Braden Moran
Horatio Timothy Edward Kane
Gravedigger #1 Roderick Peeples
Claudius, Ghost Bruce A. Young
Gertrude Barbara Robertson
Laertes Andrew Ahrens
Polonius Mike Nussbaum
Ophelia Lindsay Gould
Osric Kevin Rich
Hamlet Ben Carlson
Rosencrantz Matt Schwader
Guildenstern Ben Viccellio
First Player James Harms
Player King Aaron Alpern
Player Queen Wendy Robie
For the opening of its 20th-anniversary season, Chicago Shakespeare Theater imported British director Terry Hands, formerly co-artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who delivers a spare, polished staging of "Hamlet" that's a bit on the standard-issue side but more than respectable. Spoken at a most unpetty pace--show sprints forward in less than three hours without radical cutting--this brisk "Hamlet" values forcefulness of delivery over nuance, which ultimately means it's consistently involving but rarely moving.
Hands designed the lighting himself, working with set and costume designer Mark Bailey, and they focused on simplicity. It's all black and white, with only the itinerant players allowed shades of gray upon their entrance and a super-charged red during the play-within-a-play.
The sleekness of the design imbues a modern sheen without modern dress, and visual effects are used sparingly: The Ghost of Hamlet's father (Bruce A. Young) appears to be 15 feet tall, shrouded in smoke, and a reflective backdrop employed briefly late in the play intriguingly shows shadows both right side up and upside down.
Despite such contemporary flourishes, there remains something a bit old-fashioned about this production. Its no-nonsense, low-concept approach has a welcome straightforwardness to it, putting the actors front and center and unburdening them of the typical overripe psycho-analyzing of the characters. The acting is more presentational than usual: The soliloquies are targeted not to the audience but mostly to the universe.
There's no Oedipal interpretation here, nor any other single, identifiable "take" in terms of interpretation.
Canadian Ben Carlson plays the Danish prince with a convincing, fierce intelligence and angry moodiness. This isn't a bored or apathetic Hamlet. His problem is not summoning the passion for revenge but sustaining it, and Carlson's soliloquies alternate between a low-key pique and full-on, high-dudgeon histrionics.
Carlson excels at capturing Hamlet's self-loathing, as well as the ambiguity of the character's antic disposition; even when explaining the logic of his feigning madness, he seems a bit possessed.
He also persuades in his conversion from malcontent to a man fully accepting of his mortality; by the time he concludes "Readiness is all," he sounds and, in loose-fitting beige clothing (very noticeable, given the military-oriented design scheme), looks a bit like the proprietor of a wellness spa.
But Carlson is far less effective with the complex sentiments of his scenes with Ophelia (Lindsay Gould) or Gertrude (Barbara Robertson), which come off blunt but frigid. They're played, like much else here, at high volume, high intensity and high speed, but the emotions seem contrived, painted on, a problem in a play that spends quite a lot of time condemning false feeling.
That's the Achilles' heel of this production: its inability to generate full-fledged relationships or character insight, and thus a deep emotional connection. Perhaps that's simply a sacrifice Hands decided to make: to focus first on plotting, then on people; first on pace, then on depth of meaning. But for a show with emotional outbursts aplenty, it still feels cold.
The cast delivers the verse with skillful smoothness (and speed!), but the tonality and tension often seems flattened, particularly whenever Claudius (Young) holds forth.
The only truly memorable perf comes from Mike Nussbaum, a Chicago institution and longtime David Mamet collaborator. It's not unusual for a Polonius to stand out in this dark play: The doddering old man who fancies himself a wordsmith adds much-needed humor. Rarely, though, does he become the heart of the play, as he does here.
He's not a likable character--Nussbaum, in fact, makes the man's callousness toward his daughter especially apparent. But there's something very real about him. When he forgets what he was saying at one point, there's a look of genuine fear in his eyes, a fleeting sense that he might not be fully in control of his faculties.
Like everything else in this production, the moment flies by fast, but it's so filled with humanity that it's more emotionally engaging than all the well-spoken soliloquies combined.
Named Works: Hamlet (Play) Theater reviews
Source Citation:Oxman, Steven. "Hamlet." Daily Variety 292.49 (Sept 12, 2006): 7(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 29 Sept. 2009
Gale Document Number:A152258050
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