To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Guthrie Theater returns to its roots with a revival of its first-ever production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Theatre Artistic Director Joseph Haj brings the Wurtele Thrust Stage to life and makes one of The Bard’s most dense works accessible, creating a timeless production with modern sensibilities while still maintaining the essence of the time period.
This production is truly a feat on all levels. Set designer Jan Chambers creates a rigid and jagged set built completely in-house, with sharp staircases that almost burst into the audience. The concrete structures and twisted metal steps read less like a castle and more like a prison of King Claudius and Queen Gertrude’s own making.
Jack Herrick brings the play to life with a wonderful soundscape, even playing a recorder at one point. Robert Wierzel and Francesca Talenti’s choices in lighting and effects bring an already vivid play to another level.
Haj’s choice to use levels, utilizing blank space in front of the stage as well as making the choice to have a two-story set design, illustrate the enormity of the stakes the characters are contending with.
The set design, lighting, effects, music, and use of space all work together to guide the audience through what is typically a difficult play to follow for newcomers to Shakespeare.
Ultimately though, it is the absolutely mesmerizing performance of Michael Braugher as Hamlet that brings about the most delight. Braugher approaches his performance with surgical precision, utilizing a wide array of performative tools to bring a completely new texture to the tragic Prince.
While Hamlet is often known as a brooding teenager, Braugher showcases a man in the throes of internal anguish. He wishes to avenge his father, but battles with the unintended consequences that may come with choosing vengeance.
The constant push and pull between right and wrong wears on Hamlet throughout the play, and Braugher negotiates the diametrically opposing positions through hauntingly honest moments of self-reflection. With a runtime of two hours and 45 minutes, including intermission, the audience gets to really sink their teeth into each performance in this truly special production.
There are a few choices made in the order of the play that gives the performance a unique character and allows Braugher to make this version of Hamlet truly his own.
Ray Dooley is an absolute treat as Pelonious; he plays the slick and cunning father of Laertes and Ophelia with a certain knowing humor.
Regina Marie Williams and John Catron each play Gertrude and Claudius respectively. Both actors bring a unique humanity to their roles with Catron playing a Claudius who at least tries to be a father no matter how bad he may be at it.
Williams brings a stubborn elegance to her portrayal of Gertrude, dancing along the fine line of guilt and avoidance for her role in her late husband’s death.
Grayson DeJesus plays a remarkable Laertes, both the foil for Hamlet and, in many ways, his own reflection. DeJesus captures the single-minded obsession of Laertes and almost makes the audience sympathize with his mission for revenge.
Each performer fit their role like a glove, a testament to the process Haj and his team took in casting such a well-known play.
This production is a celebration of all the beautiful work done throughout the 60-year history of the Guthrie. This version of “Hamlet” allows the Guthrie to serve as a wonderful example of how we can remember where we came from, while also exploring the uncharted waters ahead.
“Hamlet” is currently playing through May 21 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage, in the Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and matinees begin at 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Farah Habad welcomes reader comments to email@example.com.
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