Hamlet | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The scrappy Velvet Willies specialize in bare-bones Shakespeare; this show's only design elements are a sloppily varnished plywood stage, two chairs, and costumes that are (mostly) street clothes. The result is a Hamlet mercifully free of concepts, and Jeff Harnish's brisk, uncluttered staging does concentrate the action and focus attention on the text. Still, Peter Brook's production of the play, which came through town four years ago, set a dauntingly high standard for essentialist Shakespeare, and this show has a few glaring lapses. When Horatio describes the weapon and white beard of the ghost of Hamlet's father, for instance, the actor wears neither, and a third of the cast are so challenged by the language they might as well be attempting Japanese. Christopher Prentice only scratches the surface of Hamlet's soul-consuming cynicism and despair, but his command of the text makes for a thoroughly convincing performance in a difficult role. Through 8/6: Thu (7/21, 8/4) 7:30 PM, Fri (7/15, 7/29) 8 PM, Sat 3 PM (7/16, 7/30) and 8 PM (7/23, 8/6), Sun (7/17, 7/31) 3 PM. Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 773-276-1864. $10-$15; $20 on Sat for this show and All's Well That Ends Well.

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