Culture Magazine

Review: Hamlet (Oracle Productions)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat


Hamlet logo - Oracle Productions


Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Benno Nelson
at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map)
thru August 11  |  tickets: pay-what-you-can   more info

Check for half-price tickets

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A spectacular show on a low budget


Hamlet logo - Oracle Productions

Oracle Productions presents



Review by Keith Ecker 

William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet is like a jazz standard of Western theatre. With jazz music, the tune isn’t what’s important. It’s the way the song is executed. The same goes for Hamlet. We all know the plot. It’s the unique nuances that the actors and production team bring to the play that define a staging of the Elizabethan tragedy.

Oracle Productions is putting up this classic English lit piece as part of its B-Sides productions, a separate department of Oracle Productions that develops alternative programming to, as the company puts it, "showcase the talents of a diverse group of artists." It’s worth mentioning that Oracle’s entire business structure as a theater is wholly unique to Chicago. The theatre produces a main show (currently its Radio Goggles series – our review), a set of outreach shows and its B-Sides, which are broadcast live via a Web stream. Subscriptions to the Oracle’s seasons are available, but the theatre really prides itself on its "public access" model. This model enables audience members to attend a production at no set cost. Instead, attendees simply contribute what they feel is appropriate. And after reviewing some of the metrics listed in the program for Hamlet, it seems this innovative model has dramatically increased attendance to the theatre.

The first thing you will notice about the Oracle’s production of Hamlet is its stark minimalism. The set, which is the same as the one used for Radio Goggles, is composed of a set of four screens, each of which is backlit by a series of lights. Costuming is nonexistent, as actors perform in such casual clothes as jeans and sweater vests. But make no mistake. Just because this little black box doesn’t have the budget of The Goodman doesn’t mean it can’t put on a spectacular show. And a spectacular show this is.

If you are new to the world of Hamlet, I’ll give you a quick primer. The play is basically an old-fashioned tale of youthful uprising and familial scandal. Hamlet’s (Griffin Sharps) father, the King, has been murdered by Claudius (Phillip M. Meyer). Claudius has assumed the position of king and, in a somewhat incestuous move, married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Kitty Mortland). Hamlet is understandably incensed over his uncle’s actions, and so he schemes to take him down. He crafts a plan to fake insanity and exact his revenge.

Sharps is captivating as the troubled and hot-headed Hamlet. His oratory skills are impeccable; his energy is ferocious. Even when the language of Shakespeare becomes heavily weighted under its own complex poetry, Sharps’ ability to emote makes the flowery language easily interpretable.

Equally engaging is Hilary Williams‘ portrayal of the young and tragic Ophelia, who famously throws herself into a river after the unfortunate death of her father Polonius. Williams deftly captures Ophelia’s decent into insanity, quietly singing to herself and speaking gibberish. There is a fragility in her performance that brings out Ophelia’s tender youthfulness, which in turn makes her demise that much more pitiful.

Benno Nelson‘s direction is highly entertaining. Subtle glances and gestures draw out additional subtext that rarely gets attention in other productions. It is this attention to detail that helps the production excel.

Oracle Production’s Hamlet is an excellent offering for fans of the Bard. What it lacks in production value it more than makes up for in able talent. I highly recommend that you return to the classics and check out this play.


Rating: ★★★½


Oracle Productions’s Hamlet continues through August 11th at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8pm. There is no set ticket price – just pay what you can. More information at




Griffin Sharps (Hamlet), Hilary Williams (Ophelia), Phillip M. Meyer (Claudius), Kitty Mortland (Gertrude), Tim Cunningham (Polonius), Alexander Lane (Laertes), David Weiss (Horatio), Donne Sheldon (Rosencrantz), Miriam Mintz (Guildenstern)

behind the scenes

Benno Nelson (director); Christopher Shea (asst. director); Alice Magelssen (stage manager); Miranda Sklaroff (associate producter); Harrison Adams (sound); David Boren (programming director); Ben Fuchsen (artistic director)

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