“Hamlet” at the Guthrie: not just for Shakespeare lovers


PHOTO | poppet with a camera via Flickr

Tyler Quattrin, Print Editor-in-Chief

As the Guthrie Theater puts it, “Hamlet” is “the show that started it all.” The production was Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s first in 1963 and was the inaugural play staged at his namesake theater. To commemorate the Guthrie’s 60th season, “Hamlet,” directed by Joseph Haj, will be performed on stage for the fifth time in the theater’s history from April 8 to May 21.

I am no Shakespeare expert or fan. While I may have little knowledge or appreciation for his work, I do feel “Hamlet” is wrongly perceived by many as a masterpiece and rather is one of Shakespeare’s worst. I may not enjoy the production as much as someone who is a fan of Shakespeare, but I can confidently say there is a lot that Haj and the crew do wonderfully.

Most of all, Michael Braugher’s portrayal of the protagonist, Hamlet, is especially noteworthy, as he brings an energetic and emotional intensity to the role that displays his talent. Nevertheless, Hamlet’s character is hard for me to appreciate. While intentional, his indecisive, insane and pretentious behavior is often annoying. Despite that, Braugher embodies the complexities of the unfavorable character and is delightful to watch. From the famous soliloquies to the more intimate moments with Ophelia, Braugher commands the stage. His chemistry with the other actors is also impressive, adding to the overall cohesion of the production. 

In addition to Braugher’s fabulous performance, I couldn’t help but repeatedly look towards musician/composer Jack Herrick in the corner of the stage as he creates the perfect mood and environment using numerous stringed, percussion and keyboard instruments. While I do feel that some of the speeches are strong enough that they do not need accompaniment, the music is usually an enjoyable addition and adds powerful emotion. 

Other standout aspects are undoubtedly the set’s lighting and effects, which truly add to the performances. Whether it be large shadows cast against the backdrop of the stage to add a dramatic effect to dialogue, the dynamic lights displaying an otherworldly effect to the ghost of Hamlet’s father or the way Braugher is framed by window lights during the iconic “to be, or not to be” soliloquy, the visuals are captivating, well-executed and make clear the talent of the production team.

Even if one is not a fan of “Hamlet” or Shakespeare’s other works like myself, it is certainly possible to enjoy this production. With its captivating performances and stunning visuals, even I can tell that this is “Hamlet” done right.