Hamlet | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Hamlet 

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Hamlet, Court Theatre. Charles Newell's staging of Shakespeare's masterpiece--a production described in a press release as "physically and emotionally aggressive" (as opposed to passive?)--is an intelligent, sometimes exciting, but ultimately unmoving rendition of the work. Alternately ingenious and gimmicky, it's distinguished by John Culbert's striking lighting, Narelle Sissons's spare set (the front of the stage is a giant coffin), Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman's eerie electronic score, and generally solid performances, including Yasen Peyankov's straightforward Gravedigger, John Reeger's refreshingly sympathetic Polonius, and Kevin Gudahl's forceful Claudius. Gudahl's torch-bearing Ghost of Hamlet's Father is also the spookiest and saddest I can remember.

At the center, of course, is the procrastinating prince himself. Guy Adkins's Hamlet is graceful, quirky, eloquent without being overly poetic, and often fascinating as he teeters between feigned madness and real emotional breakdown. But he lacks any palpable connection to Cassandra Bissell's Ophelia or Barbara E. Robertson's Gertrude and falls short of the tragic power he should attain by the climax. His portrayal is also undercut by some ill-advised textual changes (Hamlet's "To be or not to be" and "Now might I do it" speeches are less effective in their new positions) and distracting video in the play-within-the-play and duel scenes. And though the production's opening image is arresting--Adkins curled naked in a fetal position, sobbing, his long hair matted with sweat--it's undeveloped; one wonders whether it isn't merely an excuse for a sexy photo in the ad.

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