Monty Cole’s Direction of Hamlet at the Gift Theatre Focuses on the Power of Language
Many years ago, I saw a production of Hamlet, directed by Tyrone Guthrie, during the opening season of the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It was 1963. George Grizzard played Hamlet and Graham Brown, a black actor, played Horatio. The casting choice probably was noticed by audience members but no one seemed to think it was remarkable. The local theater review didn’t mention it. That was 55 years ago. Why did it take so many decades before this type of casting became anything close to standard? Another memorable production of Hamlet was Robert Falls’ brilliant staging for the late Wisdom Bridge Theater in 1985. Aidan Quinn starred as Hamlet. The play started at Wisdom Bridge’s venue on Howard Street and then moved to the Civic Theatre in 1986. There were many modern touches to the staging. I remembered this production when the current Hamlet spray-paints an excerpt from a speech (“your silence will not protect you,”) perhaps in homage to Quinn beginning Hamlet’s most famous speech by spraypainting, “to be or not to be.”William Boles’ scenic design creates a narrow hallway in what might be an anteroom in the castle. Ornate wall sconces are balanced with a dirt floor and occasional piles of empty beer cans. The actors and audience are separated by a wall of plexiglass at the front of the stage, which functions as window and wailing wall. Lighting sometimes casts strange angles across the wall. Claire Chrzan and Michelle D. Bends are lighting designers with sound design by Jeffrey Levin. Costumes are by Samantha C. Jones. Gaby Labotka is fight director. Hamlet continues at the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., through July 29, with performances Thursday-Sunday. Tickets are $35-40. The play runs three hours with one intermission. The Gift storefront is located one block from the Jefferson Park Blue Line station. Did you enjoy this review? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.