Review: Red Hamlet (Red Theater Chicago)

| March 30, 2013
Erin O’Connor and Jared McDaris star in Red Theater Chicago's "Red Hamlet", adapted and directed by Aaron Sawyer. (photo credit: Julie E. Ballard)        
Red Hamlet 

Adapted by Aaron Sawyer 
    and the Red Theater Collective 
Directed by Aaron Sawyer
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru April 21  |  tickets: $14-$28   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


High energy creativity brings new life to a classic


Meredith Ernst and Gage Wallace star in Red Theater Chicago's "Red Hamlet", adapted and directed by Aaron Sawyer. (photo credit: Julie E. Ballard)

Red Theater presents
Red Hamlet

Review by Joy Campbell

I’ll confess right here that Hamlet is not my favorite play as usually performed. With the exception of the brilliant David Tennant/Patrick Stewart made-for-TV version, the various productions I’ve seen have turned the beautifully written script into The Shakespeare Emo Show. Teenage Hamlet spends most of his time in a moody funk, sulking and making me want to give him a slap. To be or not to be already pal! Make up your mind, man up, and get ON with it! Adolescent mopiness is tedious, even in iambic pentameter.

Gage Wallace as Hamlet in Red Theater Chicago's "Red Hamlet", adapted and directed by Aaron Sawyer. (photo credit: Julie E. Ballard)However, the talented folks at Red Theater not only find the truth in Shakespeare’s play, they amplify it by taking advantage of things unavailable to the conventions of Elizabethan theater. By drawing on various genres and using elements of vaudeville, poetry, music and modern-day references, Red Theater not only makes the characters more accessible, they make the show incredibly fun. The script was developed over three years, and it shows: every line, every element, every piece of blocking is justified and delightful. High energy, impressive physicality, and spectacular creativity in characterization and staging make this a nonstop feast of a performance. Honoring the original script, Red Hamlet expands the story and characters, adding personal details and imagination that keeps true to the original while making a well-known work come alive with some new perspective. As Hamlet, Gage Wallace is nerdy, witty, acerbic, and very likeable. His relationship with Ophelia (played with warmth, humor, and intelligence by a terrific Meredith Ernst) is so much better this time around. Good friends as well as soul mates, they play off of each other and establish themselves as equals. Not just a pretty cipher to be pushed away, this Ophelia has a dark family secret and becomes the sounding board and grounding influence Hamlet never had in the original. We become invested in her, and when she dies, to a poem narrated by Gertrude, it’s the most beautiful and wrenching moment in the show.

Under Aaron Sawyer’s brilliant direction, actors perform on Rachel Finn’s simple set suggestive of a circus or vaudeville stage. A central pit and various levels provide ample opportunity for creative staging, such as the very powerful scenes where Hamlet hears the voice of his father’s ghost in a delivery that sent shivers up my spine. Purists might not care for the liberties taken with the original script, but we don’t get the impression that anything is done merely for effect; the choices made with the script ring true, even if some basics are re-tooled and some sacred ground is re-landscaped. Stephen Fedo’s Claudius is a likeable guy for all that he’s a murderer; as Gertrude, Laura Jones is strong and intelligent; we understand that she and Claudius had the best interests of Denmark at heart in wanting Hamlet’s father removed. As Polonius, Jared McDaris is the straight guy to all the mayhem, struggling to deal with his kids as a single parent. Timothy R. Lane’s Laertes is an overgrown child with a creepy secret, but is funny for all that. He appears as part of an acting troupe in other scenes and is a brilliantly funny performer. Fortinbras shows up periodically to rail hilariously at the state of politics, and as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Erin O’Connor and Christopher Paul Mueller are perfect comic relief.

While the comedy is intoxicating, the serious themes are equally gripping, and the somber moments are beautifully played; the command of range shown by this cast is formidable. I’ve heard said of Shakespearean adaptations that The Bard would be proud. In this case, The Bard wouldn’t just be proud; he’d be a little bit jealous.

Rating: ★★★★

Red Hamlet continues through April 21st at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm, select Mondays 7pm.  Tickets are $14-$28, and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Red Theater Chicago's "Red Hamlet", adapted and directed by Aaron Sawyer. (photo credit: Julie E. Ballard)

Photos by Julie E. Ballard 




Gage Wallace (Hamlet), Meredith Ernst (Ophelia), Stephen Fedo (Claudius), Laura Jones (Gertrude), Jared McDaris (Polonius), Timothy R. Lane (Laertes), Erin O’Connor (Rosencrantz), Christopher Paul Mueller (Guildenstern), Jeff Kurysz (Fortinbras).

behind the scenes

Aaron Sawyer (director); Kim Chelf (producer, props); John Gleason Teske (asst. director, audience development); Janette Bauer (stage manager); Matthew Lott (costumes); Rachel Finn (set design); Steve Labedz (sound design); Sydney Ray (music composition); Orion Couling (fight choreography); Dan Haymes (carpenter); Jen L’amour Dorman (graphic design); Creative Nests (choreography); Gus Steiner (casting director); Julie E. Ballard (lighting, photos).


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Category: 2013 Reviews, Adaptation, Joy Campbell, New Work, Red Theater, Stage 773, William Shakespeare

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