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Red Hamlet at Red Theater Collective | Theater review

An adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy only makes things more rotten in Denmark.
Photograph: Julie E. Ballard Red Hamlet at Red Theater
By Oliver Sava |


There are nearly a dozen productions of Shakespeare’s work currently playing in the Chicago area. Avoid this one. Aaron Sawyer’s 2011 adaptation of the Bard’s seminal tragedy is an infantile mess that takes the play’s broad strokes and does whatever it wants with them.

Modernized dialogue (“To do it or not to do it. I will regret both.”) is accompanied by random movement sequences, musical numbers and vaudevillian comedy bits. The disparate elements never cohere, resulting in an inconsistent show that drastically changes its tone from moment to moment. Is it a gritty family drama? Slapstick comedy? Experimental visual poem?

Sawyer’s working with see-what-sticks storytelling, throwing whatever he can at the page to get a reaction. What doesn’t stick: Laertes’s (Timothy R. Lane) incest, Ophelia’s (Meredith Ernst) pregnancy, Gertrude’s (Laura Jones) need to have another child, placing the actors in the audience and a “who’s on first?” scene between Hamlet (Gage Wallace) and Ophelia. Throw in Steve Labedz’s baritone sax–heavy score to give the play an ’80s porn vibe, and at times it becomes laughable.

Sawyer’s cast is staunchly dedicated, even when Hamlet smacks himself on the head and passionately yells, “This is what it feels like!” Halfway through the players’ nonsensical interpretation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap—complete with two men in white thongs who should not be in white thongs—I was ready to confess to the king’s murder myself if it meant I got to leave.


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