3 ½ stars
Audiences hardly need to be reminded that William Shakespeare had a phrase, soliloquy or advice for almost every conceivable motivation, experience or outlook.
But when Broadway actor Maurice Jones, Chicago Shakespeare’s Hamlet, considers life’s unfairness and contemplates death in the famed “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” soliloquy, he is so natural in his musing that he could be any being who grieves for a murdered loved one instead of an actor playing one of the theater’s most famous roles.
And that is the strength of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines simple, but masterfully presented “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”
Even when Polonius, Shakespeare’s overly verbose, elderly advisor to the Danish court, tells son Laertes “to thine own self be true, (and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”) ” a contradiction to everyone’s actions, stage veteran Larry Yando nicely throws out the lines as if they were simply fatherly advice instead of among the Bard’s very famous quotes.
The production really succeeds because Jones is so good at Hamlet, he’s fine in modern dress rather than period costume as he sincerely becomes a distressed son whose father is killed by a brother and whose mother then marries, possibly unknowingly, her husband’s murderer.
Scott Davis’ minimal scenic design and Robert Wierzel’s lighting focus the action where it should be, on the players, rather than offering the trappings of a castle in Denmark. Booming sound design by Lindsay Jones portends tragedy waiting.
A nice touch is having long-time beloved Chicago and New York theater actor Mike Nussbaum play a comic gravedigger along side Greg Vinkler who is also the king with the players who come to court to perform.
The rest of the cast is fine, although not at the same level of Jones’ delivery. It’s likely audiences will be talking about this Hamlet for quite awhile.
“Hamlet” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier, Chicago, through June 9, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600) and visit Chicago Shakes.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago