‘HAMLET’ – “THE PLAY’S THE THING.”
Artistic Director Barbara Gaines’s spirited new offering–the brisk and engrossing production of “Hamlet,” now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater—is extremely accessible, linear and concise, with considerable attention to our comprehension of the text. While the play explores the outer margins of meaning, we are allowed to check numerous emotional boxes before proceeding deeper into the story, scoring at a refreshingly high level of understanding with a universally top-flight cast.
Evolving in a contemporary setting devoid of elements that might detract, Gaines uses a significant—and inspired— structural device to sear the dramatic arc of the story’s second half. From this point forward, the audience never doubts that the stakes have risen in the deadly gambit that follows. Gaines’s clever and fresh interpretation mines the guilt, grief, anger and despair—and genuine mirth—inherent in every character of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.
Maurice Jones, as Hamlet, brilliantly navigates the shock and sorrow caused by his father’s murder and the abhorrent distaste for the actions of his mother Gertrude (Karen Aldridge) who turns so quickly to the twisted affection of his uncle Claudius (Tim Decker). Spiraling into a manic state—in which he violently rejects the love of Ophelia (Rachel Nicks), confounds his allies and, ultimately, in a fit of unhinged rage, commits murder himself—Jones’s Hamlet at once bristles with complexity and immerses in remorse that explodes at everyone around him.
The players—here a rag-tag assembly of leather and tattoos—unwittingly expose the King’s murder, which rightly, and naturally, serves as a climatic twist. The resulting pace allows for the action to thrust forward to the point when Polonius (a wheelhouse role for Larry Yando), who had exposed Hamlet’s darker side toward his daughter to Gertrude and Claudius, is himself slain in Gertrude’s chamber, which drives Ophelia mad and sends Laertes (Paul Deo Jr.) on a path of revenge and retribution of his own.
Hamlet’s legion of comrades—Sean Allan Krill as Horatio, Alex Goodrich as Rosencrantz and Samuel Taylor as Guildenstern—add depth and an earnest sense of comradery, as does the appearance of Mike Nussbaum, a national stage treasure, in the role of the Gravedigger.
Along with the deep-seated emotions of betrayal and revenge that course through the play, in the end, Gaines chooses images of loss and redemption to frame her superb reimagining into a tragic story about a son’s undying love for his father that will appeal to all ages.
CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER
through June 9, 2019
800 East Grand Avenue
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