Quote of the Day: Madness in great ones must not unwatched go. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1. Claudius is referring to Hamlet, but also reflecting on himself. 

The Guthrie Theater’s Artistic Director, Joseph Haj, directs this epic production of Hamlet for its 60th Anniversary season with a brilliant cast, many atmospheric effects, and a live one man band on stage. We sat completely under its spell for the full two hours and 45 minutes. 

Cast of Hamlet at the Guthrie Theater. Thru 5/21/23. Photo: Dan Norman

Michael Braugher comes to us from Broadway where he was last seen in To Kill a Mockingbird. He embodies the young Hamlet, crazed with grief and hot for revenge. His best friend Horatio (Daniel Petzold) gives him good council, while also fueling the fire. He has seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father (David Whalen) and tells him that his death was no accident. He was murdered. Hamlet’s ghost father has an ominous presence whenever he enters the scene. When he beckons his son to follow him, then tells him of his murder, and who did it, the audience sat in silence. We were so focused on his speech and their scene. 

Michael Braugher as Hamlet at the Guthrie Theater thru 5/21/23. Photo: Dan Norman

Regina Marie Williams plays Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, who “has too soon” married her husband’s brother. She’s not exactly maternal, but seems absorbed in her own affairs with Claudius (brilliantly played by John Catron with all the self-absorption of someone who manipulated his way to the top). When Hamlet confronts his mother in her bedroom, she is more real than any scene where her husband is present. She wears gorgeous wigs and elaborate costumes (designed by Trevor Bowen) in all her scenes, but is bare-headed in this scene with her son who wants her to know the truth and to get her to bare her own transgressions.

Ray Dooley was a fantastic Polonius, who was especially witty in scenes with his children. He brought out the humor in his lines and characters, as well as fatherly advice and concern. His need to insert himself in their affairs and endear himself to the king are his downfall. He was also terrific as one of the gravediggers, along with David Whalen, whose scene brought much levity as this tragic tale comes to its murderous conclusion.

Anya Whelan-Smith as Ophelia and Michael Braugher as Hamlet at the Guthrie Theater, thru 5/21/23. Photo: Dan Norman

Anya Whelan-Smith plays the heartbroken Ophelia. She is confused by Hamlet’s attention and love letters, then his swift turn on her, telling her to “get thee to a nunnery,” and angry with her for betraying him to her father and uncle-father. After her father is killed by her former lover, she slips into madness herself. Whelan-Smith’s performance here was gripping. She has complete control of this scene and the other characters as she sings her haunting melody and flings herself away from them. Her brother Laertes (Grayson DeJesus) can do nothing to comfort her, only seek revenge for her and their father’s deaths.

Max Wojtanowicz plays Osric, the court’s messenger, announcer, and sometimes comic relief, especially in his facial expressions and reactions to the king and queen and what’s going on in doomed Elsinore. Dustin Bronson and William Sturdivant play Hamlet’s goofy schoolmates Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, among other roles. James Rodriguez also plays several characters. All of them distinct and important with stunning costumes. 

Regina Marie Williams (Gertrude), John Catron (Claudius), Michael Braugher
(Hamlet), William Edson (Attendant), Grayson DeJesus (Laertes) Photo: Dan Norman

The scenic design (by Jan Chambers) is stark walls and harsh lines, that soften with lighting (Robert Wierzel) for mood and scene changes. It includes multiple levels, the main floor of the castle, or outside with a trap door for the gravesite and other scenes, and has a crow’s nest for scenes on the parapet of the castle. During the play within a play, where traveling players do a play called “The Mousetrap,” they use projections (Francesca Talenti) to illustrate the story with the actors watching out towards the audience so we can see their reactions. There is great use of projections, light and shadows to add to the effect of this production. The best of all is having Jack Herrick on stage with his multiple stringed and percussion instruments and keyboard, setting the scene, mood, and atmosphere. 

You can see this epic production of Hamlet at the Guthrie Theater through May 21, 2023. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What’s your favorite line from Hamlet (or Shakespeare)? Have you ever looked up a common phrase and found that it comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays and is still used today?