A Word In Edgewise: A Play For All Reasons


Something’s rotten in the state off Denmark” “To thine own self be true” “Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown,” “Good night sweet prince”

Whether you ever read the full text in a classroom; whether or not you’ve ever seen the play on a stage, you’ve likely, at some time in your life, quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Right now, the Guthrie is offering you the opportunity to discover your sources, and learn even more for future use.

Under the direction of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Hamlet was the first play produced in the eponymous new theater at Vinland Place on May 7, 1963, and later, 43 years to the day on May 7, 2006, directed then by Joe Dowling, Hamlet was the final play produced before the Guthrie’s shift to its current location. Today, Artistic Director Joseph Haj’s Hamlet marks the melancholy Dane’s fifth Guthrie appearance, replete with its own interpretations, nuances and musical accompaniment, as 2023 also celebrates the Guthrie Theater’s 60th Diamond Anniversary.

What draws one to produce or to attend for the first or nth time this most lauded of Shakespeare’s plays? To not say, “Oh I’ve seen that,” but to return irresistibly to see how Hamlet’s shock and awe will be presented this time, under this director, with these players? How will those lines you may already know be spoken this evening?

The very fact that so many of the Bard’s lines have been familiar for some 400 years can be something of a burden for the performer wo knows it behooves him to deliver in a voice that is fresh and alive, while in turn, the audience waits in anticipation; will they receive a mere recitation of Shakespeare’s written words, or heartfelt emotions wrung from the living embodiment of the character?

Do you prefer your Shakespeare decked in full Elizabethan plumage? In full-on military dictator, or draped in le smoking with raised martini? Rough or bespoke, Shakespeare can shift your universe. Hamlet is suffused with enough passion and intrigue to inhabit any century containing humankind. There are endless angles for discussion and comparison, fraught with themes from revenge to love to insanity or mommy issues. If this be your first Hamlet, you’ve set the conversation bar high.

Michael Braugher’s Hamlet is imposing, even as his senses waver; Regina Marie Williams and John Catron are regal matching evil with aplomb; Ray Dooley’s Polonius humorous yet less over-stuffed than many before him. In short, a more measured, less chaotic interpretation than some that intensifies rather than clears the poisoned air.

The sets lean to the brutal, yet the lofty, soaring verticals and stolid solids, under the mastery of Robert Wierzel nuanced lighting, evoke more a chill Falling Waters than blindfolds and last cigarettes. One could think of warming fires within, if not for the festering corruption…

Strike Elizabethan ruffs; these costumes are muted, echoing the dark columns rising out of sight and suiting the castle’s mood and temperament. King Claudius, is in Hamlet’s father’s place, now married to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. Their estate proclaimed in the cut of their clothes, Hamlet’s darkness in less courtly garments.

Throughout, musical sighs and riffs enhance the action; you finally spot a lone musician just offstage, now and then plucking, tapping his motley array of instruments as if just by happenstance he’s mirroring intensifying, underscoring what’s transpiring before the footlights. Eerie, lovely, unique–like this production.

On the Guthrie Wurtle Stage through May 11.

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