“Hamlet” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Better Seen Live
By Lukas Hoffman
Many Northsiders are familiar with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” through their English classes or their own readings. However, not many take the time out of their day to go see a live performance. This year, Ms. Kyra Doherty, English Department; and Mr. Scott McCormick, English Department, took their AP Literature Classes to a matinee show of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production, staged in the theater at Navy Pier. The life brought to the play by the cast was immediately apparent, and everyone was able to grasp and comprehend the story at a deeper level than before.
“Hamlet” takes place in Denmark around the year 1600, not long after the death of the eponymous character’s father, King Hamlet, and the ascension of Hamlet’s (Maurice Jones) uncle King Claudius (Tim Decker) to the throne. In the wake of King Hamlet’s death, Claudius has already married the widowed Queen Gertrude (Karen Aldridge) and been coronated. With the loss of national stability, Denmark faces the threat of invasion by the neighboring Norway with Fortinbras positioning to attack. One night, the ghost of Hamlet's father (Derrick Lee Weeden) appears to him. Hamlet’s father accuses Claudius of his murder and urges Hamlet to take revenge. As Hamlet learns more and attempts to handle the situation, the subsequent events result in a downward plunge for not just the characters, but the state of Denmark itself.
Out of all the performances, Jones’s Hamlet was best, followed by Decker’s Claudius. Jones not only portrayed Hamlet’s defiance of the new order, but also succeeded in capturing the madness of the character. Decker was able to portray the sleaziness and deception of the murderous king with seeming ease, and had a commanding presence onstage. Decker took control of his scenes and made his character’s intentions perfectly clear. Most surprisingly, one of the best portrayals was Mike Nussbaum’s gravedigger. Despite the difficulty in making the role comedic, Nussbaum succeeded. Every joke landed and the audience easily understood his meaning despite the Shakespearean language. His wit, charisma, and lighthearted nature shone through with his jovial acting, and Nussbaum was one of the most memorable parts of the show.
The staging and costumes also helped establish the production as a success. The Courtyard Theater surrounds the stage on three sides which immerses the audience in the action; excellent acoustics allow for whispers on stage to reach every member of the audience. The actors were dressed in modern clothing, mostly formalwear. The colors helped to establish each character's unique appearance and characterized them well. There were few props used and the stage was mostly empty of decorations, except for pieces necessary to the plot. Without distractions like excessive furniture, and by keeping the stage relatively clear, the actors were able to put on a phenomenal show.
“Hamlet” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre runs through June 9, with ticket prices ranging between $58 and $88 dollars apiece. For anyone interested in Shakespeare, this “Hamlet” is the play to see.