The Dark Tragedy of Hamlet Still Captivates Contemporary Audiences

Apr 12, 2024 at 4:21 pm
St. Louis Shakespeare presents an effectively brooding production of the classic tale.
St. Louis Shakespeare presents an effectively brooding production of the classic tale. POSTER ART
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, is arguably the most well-known play written in English, and time has not diminished its popularity or acclaim. The moody tragedy, written in 1603 and set in Denmark, gets a captivating retelling by St. Louis Shakespeare. Director Patrick Siler and an engaging cast focus on the text, drawing audiences into the story and holding us spellbound from the first ghostly apparition to the last bloody death.

Prince Hamlet is called home from school due to the untimely death of his father the king, only to discover that his mother has already remarried to the king’s brother Claudius. This unsettling news is compounded by rumors of the appearance of the king’s ghost. Hamlet and his friend Horatio join the guards on their night watch, where the ghost tells Hamlet that his death was no accident — it was calculated, cold-blooded murder. Wrapped in grief and the determination to learn the truth, the prince spirals into a dark, brooding contemplation that leads to revelation and violent revenge. No one in the castle escapes Hamlet’s wrath, not even his love, the fair and tender Ophelia. Not even Hamlet himself.

Dustin Petrillo is mesmerizing as Hamlet, leaning into the story’s building tension with a controlled yet wholly engrossing performance. Petrillo delivers some of the Bard’s most famous soliloquies with natural pacing that allows the meaning to resonate with deliberation and emotional impact. Hamlet’s graveside scenes, which are too frequently overblown, feel authentically derived. Filled with genuine loss and longing, they are among the most affecting interpretations I’ve ever witnessed.

The connected and capable supporting cast matches Petrillo in focus and intent, avoiding excessive dramatization and ensuring the audience hangs on every word and deed. Colin Nichols and Donna Parrone are well matched as the conniving Claudius and the culpable yet caring Gertrude, and Don McClendon strikes just the right note of gravitas and offense as the dead king’s ghost and a riddling gravedigger. Chuck Brinkley is long-winded and well meaning as the ill-fated Polonius while Bradley M. Dillon is a vengeful but grounded Laertes, and Hannah Duncan gives Ophelia a backbone yet still tumbles into beautifully portrayed despair. Jordan Ray Duncan and Austin Cochran are amiable fools as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, creating a solid contrast to Creighton Markovich, who shines as the loyal, perceptive Horatio. Sound designer and percussionist David A. N. Jackson accompanies the performers in ways that enhance and emphasize the storytelling. His brief interplay with Pertrillo’s Hamlet is particularly unexpected and effective.

Director Siler and the company take a minimalist approach to design that works well, using lighting and sound to effectively set the mood for each scene. A sense of steely resolve ensures every interaction perfectly captures the moment and the deeper, more philosophical questions it suggests. This ensures that the audience hones in on the dialogue and action and keeps the play moving at a pace contemporary audiences will appreciate. Shakespeare’s longest play starts out a bit slow and plodding, and there are a few questionable choices with the costumes, but the drama quickly picks up speed, ensuring the audience remains invested in the increasingly tragic tale. Whether you’ve seen Hamlet before or not, St. Louis Shakespeare’s thoughtful, well-staged and performed tragedy is one you won’t want to miss.

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