To see or not to see is no longer the question when it comes to the Bard’s most well-known and oft-performed tragedy: at this point in its performance history, even an okay production of “Hamlet” can yield certain moments and interpretations that will justify yet another date with that mercurial Dane. And to some degree, this is true of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s current production. But what is most memorable about British director Terry Hands’ work here, especially for those who resist Shakespeare on the grounds that it is overlong, is that he has produced—with the most minimal of textual cuts to its five acts—a “Hamlet” that clocks in at just under three hours. Spoken at a relentless tempo and staged so that scenes dovetail into the next, this is a locomotive of a production that sadly sacrifices the poetry and musicality of Shakespeare’s language for pace. This could be overlooked if the production had some strong directorial concept, but Mr. Hands had no larger vision for the play or at least could not express it. Having the actor who plays Claudius double as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father supports the idea that Hamlet is a brooding brat who can’t stand to see any man vie for the attention of his mother, but any subsequent oedipal examination between Hamlet and Gertrude is missing and the famous closet scene is devoid of incestuous anxiety. What then, drives Hamlet’s vengeance? Excessive filial devotion to duty? Possibly, but an early scene between Hamlet and the ghost of his father establishes little of their relationship and provides a weak foundation for the ensuing drama. Ben Carlson plays the title role as a man in full control of his psychological state, if not his emotional one. His soliloquies, more rhetorical than self-reflective or soul-searching, suggest as much. Hands’ signature style (stark set, heavy use of spotlight and shadows, full use of the apron stage) gives this “Hamlet” some visual flair but this production has little dramatic momentum save for the artificial one created by its hyperkinetic performers. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 East Grand on Navy Pier, (312)595-5600. Tue-Fri 7:30pm/Sat 3 & 8pm/Sun 3pm. $40-$67. Through Nov 18.