There are actors who recite Shakespeare, and there are actors who make Shakespeare come alive.
Many of those in Writer’s Theater’s production of “Hamlet” make the words fly through the centuries and come out vibrant and compelling in 2012. It’s a strong classical, ensemble production that, in director Michael Halberstam’s hands, has a sense of immediacy.
For the newcomer to Shakespeare, the production makes the Bard’s words accessible, but Shakespeare lovers will also delight in its richness and nuance—and costumes, for that matter. Costume designer David Hyman has draped the royals in furs and silks and smart brass buttons and epaulets, providing visual candy that contrasts with scenic designer Collette Pollard’s simple, but effective, set. It consists mainly of a castle wall with a dark smoke mark that suggests the ghost’s lingering presence as the action unfolds.
The electricity in this production, though, is sparked by Scott Parkinson’s performance as the tortured Danish prince. He roots Hamlet in the present moment, and brings vividness to the character’s lines and soliloquies, so familiar to anyone raised speaking the English language.
Parkinson puts himself out there, takes risks and seems to invent Hamlet every moment as the play goes along. He so transcends the antique language with expression and movement that it matters not we don’t speak Elizabethan English. We get it. It’s a riveting performance.
Not all of the cast takes risks to this degree, but the production as a whole is marked by good work and interplay.
Far from being a distant Gertrude, Shannon Cochran projects the queen’s compassionate love for her son. Liesel Matthews, who speaks each Shakespearian syllable melodically, conveys a sense of duty and grief as Ophelia, whose bright prospects are tragically dimmed. Larry Yando does satisfying work in turns as the powerful murdered king and the clever comic-relief gravedigger.
This was my first visit to Writer’s Theater, and the space lent itself beautifully to the production. It was large enough to accommodate all the action, including the sword fight, yet intimate enough that everyone in the audience could see and hear the actors easily.
Ticket information follows:
Where: Writer's Theatre, 325 Tudor Court in downtown Glencoe.
When: 7:30 p.m. most Tuesdays and Wednesdays, occasional 2 p.m. Wednesday shows, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6 p.m. most Sundays, through Nov. 11.
Tickets: $35-$70; (847) 242-6000 or www.writerstheatre.org.
Parking: Free, on-street