Hamlet Dreams | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Hamlet Dreams

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Hamlet Dreams, Bailiwick Repertory. In director David Zak's adaptation of Shakespeare's play, only patriarchs Claudius and Polonius can hear and speak. Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, and Laertes communicate through sign language while alter egos speak their words. Zak and cast manage this unusual staging's flow very well, and the physical interactions--between Hamlet and Ophelia (Robert Schleifer and Candace Hart), for example--are surprisingly moving. This is not to slight Aaron Preusse, who gives Hamlet an intelligent, sensitive voice. However, at times his sensitivity stands in marked contrast to Schleifer's more hulking, virile characterization, creating a disconnect akin to mismatched dubbing in a film. More distracting is Joseph E. Hudson as Claudius: with his corporate demeanor and clipped pace, he seems to respond to the play's tragic events as mere annoyances, coming across more like a defensive Enron executive than a king with blood on his hands.

Purists may balk at the liberties Zak takes with the script, trimming it to just under two hours and rearranging some elements. You won't hear the line "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead"--the two don't exist here. Also, Zak opens with Hamlet's letters to Ophelia, which effectively elevates the importance of their relationship but creates the feeling that something's missing in Denmark later in the play, a feeling that doesn't quite disappear until the main characters reconvene at the end and die, as God and Shakespeare intended.

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