Arts theater review

Hamlet does not condone the use of musical instruments as violence

The Shakespeare Ensemble presents much more in ‘Hamlet’

8327 chengsy hamlet
In a play by the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble, Hamlet (Tal Scully, '18) reveals to Gertrude (Ruth Tweedy, '20) that her brother murdered her late husband.

Performed by MIT Shakespeare Ensemble
Directed by Damon Krometis
Kresge Little Theater
Runs Nov. 9–11 @8PM

The last time I remember reading Hamlet was in a high school classroom, as my fellow classmates and I took turns reading the text aloud as assigned by our English teacher. It was dull; we were not actors, nor were we particularly passionate about reading Shakespeare aloud to fellow sleep-deprived students. This weak impression I had of the play greatly contrasted with The Shakespeare Ensemble’s performance: lively, emotional, funny, and viscerally moving at times. Yes, this Shakespeare play does not disappoint: (fake) blood and death abound!

The beginning of the play starts off with a monitor playing news on the fallen state of Denmark. Soon we see the ghost of the former king, Hamlet’s father, appear before Horatio, unable to speak of his suffering before disappearing at the break of dawn, as the sunlight temporarily blinds the audience. By the time our eyesight has recovered, the ghost and his pale visage is gone, and we are left to wonder if he was ever there at all if not for Horatio’s confusion and horror. Why has the king appeared, if not for something rotten in the state of Denmark?

We find out soon what has been brewing: Hamlet, already morose and bitter because her uncle Claudius has risen to the throne and married her mother, learns from the ghost that her father was killed by Claudius. Thus, the real meat of the play begins, in which Hamlet struggles with her morality. Tal Scully (’18) does an amazing job portraying the emotional breadth of this complicated, intelligent, and bereaved character, from her erratic bursts of silliness to the dark brooding soliloquies. “To be or not to be,” one of the most recognized speeches/soliloquies in Shakespeare, does not disappoint as a riveting contemplation of suicide and the purpose of living. Hamlet’s character is complemented by the other characters on stage. From the overbearing and scheming Claudius (Peter Duerst ’18) and endearing old Polonius (Sofie Ayala ’19), to poor Ophelia (Kate Yee ’20) and good Horatio (Robert Thorpe II ’18), and even the smaller role of the Gravedigger (Ankur Chavda G), everyone holds a certain charm that captures your attention no matter what the role. The Shakespeare Ensemble is a group of students who love Shakespeare. When students give up hours a night to rehearse, rather than pset or party, you know it’s going to be good.

The play switches from humor to emotion often and quickly in what proved to be a rollercoaster of Hamlet’s inner turmoil. Should she be sitting around, doing nothing to avenge her father’s death? Should she continue to act insane to all but her closest friend? Or should she take action now, and kill her uncle-father, Claudius? I wasn’t expecting to laugh as hard or as often as I did in a play known for its tragic ending. I don’t want to spoil anything about the production, but know that while they don’t use musical instruments for violence, they don’t hold back on blood!

Damon Krometis, the director of the play, mentions in his profile that he questioned how to approach the most-produced play in the English language. I can say for sure that it was well worth the three hours. Go see Hamlet!