Review: Hamlet

On Friday, we went to see Oak Park Theater Festival’s rendition of Hamlet. It’s Oak Park’s version of Shakespeare in the Park. Picnicking in the park while watching Shakespeare has to be one of the best things to do in the summer.

Anyway, I was really excited to see Hamlet because I’ve never seen it performed live before. For years, I had held out reading Hamlet because I felt that since it was such an important play, the only proper way was to see it live. Well, time passed. And then I missed it at the Chicago Shakespeare Company. Eventually I broke down and watched the Kenneth Branagh version. The movie was okay but Hamlet annoyed me incredibly. I went on to read Dan Carroll’s Stick Figure Hamlet, a stick figure comic of the unabridged play. It’s pretty freaking sweet.

I had never gone to the Oak Park Theater Festival before. I’d heard of it but it hadn’t really cemented in my mind as something to do until I heard they were doing 1920s Hamlet. So off we went (two tries because of a rain cancellation). And it was magnificent. The beginning was a bit rocky but it pulled itself together into a wonderful play. (Spoilers ahead)

The actor who played Hamlet made him into a more sympathetic character than Kenneth Branagh’s version. He decided to go the crazy route with him so it was entertaining to watch him border madness and cross it repeatedly. The actor who played Polonius was really impressive. In both the book and the movie, he’s really just an annoying buffoon. In this play, he was made into a silly but loveable character that I was genuinely sorry to see him go.

And I got some nice eye candy with the wonderful 1920s suits and dresses. But no spats. They did some updating of the script. For instance, characters had guns instead of swords. The final fight was a fistfight instead of a sword fight. The stage fighting was awesome and choreographed by Victor Allen Bayona.

One thing that struck me about the play was the power of words. There are so many scenes of storytelling: Ophelia talking about Hamlet’s actions, the Ghost talking about his death, Hamlet talking about his adventures on the high seas, Hamlet remembering the jester Yorick. And then there was the scene where Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading. Hamlet responds, “Words, words, words.” But they are more than words in Hamlet’s mind. Notably, right after the actor finishes his description of the death of Priam, Hamlet has this incredible monologue about how incredible that this man could feel so much for something that isn’t happening. The actor was shedding tears for Hecuba. Hamlet, on the other hand, couldn’t bring himself to say anything about his father’s murder.

And the words keep coming. Letters hold orders to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they deliver them in England. And then we have the play itself, which makes us pity Ophelia, Polonius, and even Hamlet himself. This play is beyond mere “Words words words.” Words inspire action or inaction (in the case of Hamlet).

Anyway, go see Hamlet by July 15th.

That’s all!

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