Hamlet (Scott Parkinson, right) banters with a gravedigger (Larry Yando) in the final act of the Shakespearean tragedy.
We've been excited about Hamlet at the Writers' Theatre for some time—the show even topped our must-see theatre list in our Fall Culture Guide (coming online soon!). Scott Parkinson, returning to Chicago for the first time since 2003, plays the titular Danish prince, with other local favorites filling out the rest of the incredible cast. Culture editors Elly Fishman and Emmet Sullivan caught the opening show at the Writers' Theatre (325 Tudor Ct, Glencoe). The play runs through November 11, and tickets are available at writerstheatre.org.
Emmet: So, what did you think?
Elly: Oof, where to begin! Well, I'll start with Scott Parkinson as Hamlet. He was phenomenal—really brought an amazing individuality to the Hamlet's monologues, which we've all heard a number of times at this point in our culture-vulture lives.
Emmet: I loved his manic performance.
Elly: He captured all these amazing details, from the slow-blink (as he derails through the play) to the turn of his hands. There was a beautiful subtlety to Parkinson's Hamlet (and a lil gay, let's be real)
Emmet: Yeah, one thing that I wasn't expecting was the implication that he and Horatio's friendship was a little more than that. I know I wasn't the only one to pick up on that.
Elly: And there was absolutely no chemistry between Hamlet and Ophelia!
Emmet: Maybe it was just so striking to me compared to Hamlet and Ophelia. Here was a character that you felt really understood Hamlet; they were intimate. And Ophelia was by far the biggest disappointment to me.
Elly: Liesel Matthews's performance really fell short. She couldn't quite grasp the language or emotional landscape. So disappointing, because I really loved A Little Princess back in the day. Definitely owned that on VHS.
Emmet: Now I have the "all little girls are princesses" rant stuck in my head. Thanks.
Elly: Hahah, I just remember her tracing her father's face. And her secret attic friend. And the monkey.
Emmet: Of course, the monkey. OK, back to Hamlet. Another surprise (but a good one!): the intimacy of the stage. I had never been to the Writers' Theatre before, and I didn't expect to be so taken in like that.
Elly: Oh yes, their bookstore space is even smaller! I love that about Writers' Theatre. You're completely immersed in the world.
Emmet: The theater, for those who haven't been, is split into three seating sections, all looking down into a square stage area, about a dozen feet on each side.
Emmet: I loved the ghost of the father as well.
Elly: Larry Yando.
Emmet: Very spooky/Darth Vader vibe going on when he first comes in.
Elly: Yeah, those contacts. Taking cues for Halloween.
Emmet: For sure. What did you think of the other costumes?
Elly: I loved them! The muted colors—very restrained.
Emmet: I know what you mean. I liked Hamlet's, how his costume was stripped the more he came undone—the trail of black fabric that followed him eventually—and how it was restored along with his sanity in the final act. There were also some modern influences in the costuming—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for instance, wearing jackets and scarves.
Elly: Yeah. Most of the men rocked the minimal scarf look.
Emmet: We haven't talked about my favorite character yet, Polonius, who added a lot of comedy to the show.
Elly: Oh, yes, I loved Polonius. Ross Lehman found an amazing amount of humor in the character.
Emmet: Agreed, it was nice to have a break from all the darkness in the rest of the show.
Elly: He's a well-known comedic actor around town, so it must have been an intentional choice on [director] Michael Halberstam’s part to find someone to bring out the humor.
Emmet: Outside of a disappointing Ophelia, did you find any other problems with the show? Well, Ophelia and the fact that it's in Glencoe, which is a trek for us cityfolk.
Elly: And there's nowhere good to eat before the show, though they have that cute grocery store. It started off a bit slowly for me, but picked up at the ghost scene.
Emmet: I still can't get over the entrance of Hamlet's father. Anything else you remember about the show?
Elly: Gertrude (Shannon Cochran) is one tall drink of water. That's all I got.
Photograph: Michael Brosilow