Shakespeare theater contemporizes ‘Hamlet’

Play effectively uses props, effects, space to attract viewers


Photo Provided by The Chicago Shakespeare Theater

TO BE OR NOT TO BE. Maurice Jones, who plays Hamlet, leads a unique adaption of 'Hamlet' at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier. Jones has starred opposite of Daniel Radcliffe and worked with Orlando Bloom.

Ivan Beck, Features Editor

A lone figure slowly walks through the audience, making his way to a dark stage where rain falls onto a grave. This is how the newest iteration of “Hamlet,” performed at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, begins.

Though the story stays true to the classic story of “Hamlet,” it includes elements of modern behavior and set pieces — but the story’s power and revitalization is what makes it a must-see for those who love theater.

The inclusion of these elements is seamless, as characters use guns instead of spears, and wear garments from the 1920s instead of those of the time.

The changes make the story seem like one that could happen today, which brings a new power to the themes of the play. However, the characters stay true to the personalities given to them by Shakespeare. These aspects give the play a revitalization, making the themes of the play ring truer to the modern viewer.

For the most part, the acting was extremely compelling, not only demonstrating to the viewer the emotions of the characters, but causing the audience to empathize with the struggles of the characters. The passionate acting forces the audience to become emotionally involved, and therefore each member hangs on each development of the story, The delivery of the lines carries such emotion that, despite being in Shakespearean English, the message is clear.

The articulation of the many monologues throughout the play is both compelling and captivating. The speeches of Hamlet in particular seem like he is speaking to the audience, gesturing toward certain audience members as if the character could truly speak directly to them.

The interactions between certain characters seems so real that the audience cannot help but become enthralled in what they are saying.

The theater is compact and efficient, with most of the stage being a projection into the audience. The usage of the aisles makes the audience feel like they are part of story.

The theater is not very large, with two upper levels two rows deep in addition to the main floor. The arrangement ensures that all seats give audience members a spectacular view of the action. The space allows for the story to have an intimate feeling, as if the audience members are truly involved in the development story.

The set was minimalistic, with only a few set pieces, which were recycled in different scenes. In addition, some aspects of the set went very far to create a certain situation. This includes actual water falling on part of the stage to create the illusion of rain, as well as part of the stage itself being removed to appear like a gravesite.

In one scene, the entire back of the stage is enveloped in falling water, through which every character must walk, accentuating the somber mood of the moment.

For those who love the original story of “Hamlet,” this play will satisfy, presenting the tragedy in many ways similar to its original form. However, the play also adds something to the story that previous audiences may not have seen before—a modern revitalization.

The fact that the themes of the play still ring true today is a testament to the genius of this play. In addition, the modern lense through which the story is told allows for the characters to be more relatable to the viewers, and further brings the story to life.