by Erika Sasseville and Christine Sarkes (a mother/daughter review)
In celebration of the Guthrie Theater’s 60th anniversary, Artistic Director Joseph Haj has staged a magnificent and powerful production of arguably one of the greatest plays of all time, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, on stage now through May 21. Sir Tyrone Guthrie directed this play to open the theater in May 1963 and this is its fifth production at the Guthrie.
Michael Braugher as Hamlet breathes in one of the most challenging roles in theatre history and breathes out poetry, poise, and passion. His Hamlet speaks with the distinction worthy of a Prince of Denmark and the rhythm and cadence of great orators. While Shakespeare’s plays are certainly the most famous of his works, we must remember that he was a poet at heart. Braugher’s Hamlet reminds us of the poetry behind this tragic masterpiece.
The plot follows the young prince of Denmark as he returns home to mourn his father’s death and begrudgingly attend the wedding of his mother, Queen Gertrude (a tortured and regal Regina Marie Williams), to his uncle Claudius (John Catron), who has all too willingly taken his brother’s throne. When the dead king’s ghost appears and cries murder, Hamlet’s grief turns to obsessive revenge as he seeks to uncover evidence and unmask Claudius. Tension builds and plots spiral out of control, leading to a deadly final showdown.
Ray Dooley as Polonius humanizes and sympathizes with his character. He creates a man who is at times foolish, vain, and prideful, yes, but also loving, wise at times, and extremely fun to watch. Every second he’s on stage is pure joy, and he’s clearly mastered the art of delivering Shakespearean speech for modern audiences. He is clear, confident, and so natural that you might think the Bard wrote the part with him in mind. Other excellent cast members include Dustin Bronson (as Guildenstern/Fortinbras/Barnardo) and Lamar Jefferson (as Rosencrantz/Marcellus) who bring memorable moments of comic relief. All in all, the cast members seemed to us to soften the edges of these larger-than-life dramatic characters to let the brilliance of Shakespeare’s words shine through.
Great thought and care went into every technical detail, from the texture on the walls to the color of Getrude’s wardrobe. The scenic, lighting, and projection design worked in perfect harmony to create a stark and slowly rotting Denmark. The costume design brought the characters into sharp focus with thematic color palettes and impeccable tailoring, evoking WWII and a futuristic world simultaneously.
During intermission, we overheard a young woman lament that she had trouble following and understanding Shakespearean English. The deeply complex metaphors and phrasing can be difficult for modern ears to comprehend, but the payoff to letting the words flow and land where they may is enormous. To support audience appreciation and comprehension, select performances include a post-play 20-minute conversation facilitated by Guthrie staff and featuring the Black Gems of Urban League Twin Cities. Cast members may join the discussion as they are able.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj. Jan Chambers (Scenic Designer), Trevor Bowen (Costume Designer), Robert Wierzel (Lighting Designer), Darron L West (Sound Designer), Francesca Talenti (Projection Designer), Jack Herrick (Composer/Musician), Carla Steen (Resident Dramaturg), Rebecca Clark Carey (Vocal Coach), Casey Kaleba (Fight Director). Tickets range from $31 to $80. at the Box Office at 612.377.2224, 1.877.447.8243 (toll-free), 612.225.6244 (group) or online at guthrietheater.org. Accessibility services (ASL-interpreted, audio-described, open-captioned and relaxed performances) are available on select dates.