Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Day 3: Hamlet

Sometimes it is fun to write a lot about an evening of theatre, and sometimes very little needs to be said. Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of Hamlet requires almost no additional explanation other than that it is fantastic and that you should see it if is at all within your means. For those still intrigued, I could write at length about this production’s many virtues, but as I am exhausted by my time at the festival, I will only say a few short words.

Widely regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest work, Hamlet is a play so ingrained in the body of the english-language theatre that new audiences might be surprised with just how much they know of the work. Perhaps that is why this production’s cast is operating at such a high level: the play already exists in their bones and it is merely their job to retell it.

Whatever the reason, the 22-person cast of this production is superb in every way. From Derrick Lee Weeden’s hilarious and compassionate Polonius to Robin Goodwin Nordli’s terrifyingly sympathetic Gertrude to Danforth Comins’s bold and bitter take on the title character, the production proves to be the most well-acted I’ve ever seen at OSF.

Director Lisa Peterson has directed the production with visual flair and a grungy and chaotic sensibility. Her “concept” for this production includes the use of electric guitars and a cast-iron set that gives the show a heavy-metal feel. While it’s not a particularly enlightening concept, it allows for some interesting incidental music and a highly interesting scenic design (by Laura Jellinek). What makes her direction so unique is the beautiful clarity with which she directs her actors and understands Hamlet‘s complex and austere rhythms. Anyone who has studied the play even in passing will be struck by how much thematic relevance Peterson has imbued in this production. Even those who are totally unfamiliar with the play will walk away with a unique clarity of what actually happens in the work, as her staging provides clear context of plot without being heavy-handed.

Hamlet is most likely the most frequently produced play of all time. One may wonder why they should bother going to see yet another production of the oft-seen work, but with this staging, Hamlet reaffirms itself as the centerpiece of western drama and proves to be a darkly thrilling and hugely entertaining night of theatre as well.

Hamlet runs through October 14. Information and tickets available here

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