Hamlet, Shakespeare Project of Chicago, at Duncan YMCA Chernin's Center for the Arts. Over the past few years the Shakespeare Project has performed all of Shakespeare's plays in staged readings. But reading is one thing, and staging a full-fledged production is another: this version of what is perhaps the most performed work in the English language lacks the inspiration and invention needed to elevate it above dozens of other ordinary Hamlets. Those familiar with the play will find little here they haven't seen elsewhere, while novices might well find themselves wondering how Hamlet got its reputation.
There are few standouts in the well-seasoned Equity cast, though David Skidmore's melancholy Dane is especially problematic. Alternating between two approaches--bland and spastic--he fails to convey Hamlet's emotional and philosophical plight, and his occasional buffonish flailings and sputterings turn the character's savage wit into mere clowning. Director Mara Polster's original touches in this straightforward, stripped-down production seem gratuitous: an E.E. Cummings poem set to a saccharine melody introduces Ophelia's mad scene, and there are a couple of strange rewordings of Shakespeare's text. The bloody end to this great tragedy here feels rushed and perfunctory.
Two decades worth of postmodern and modernized Shakespeare may have left many hungering for this company's bare-bones approach. But an unadorned, maddeningly inert and prosaic production devoid of emotional intensity and psychological complexity is hardly an improvement. --Adam Langer