Somewhat Recommended ** I have been covering theater for many years, and was recently surprised to find that the suburb of Oak Park had a Festival Theatre, in downtown Oak Park where a little bit of Ravinia and First Folio has joined for a wonderful experience. This lovely little park, called the Austin Gardens, is located just North of Lake Street (the main street in Downtown Oak Park) and has been there for many years. In fact, this company is celebrating 40 years of bringing theater to the community.
The productions they have selected for this season are “Hamlet” Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy , followed by “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. This will open later in July. Let me first tell you about this lovely little park. It is easy to get to and is only minutes away from the highway and downtown (Oak Park), so you can park at the city lot directly across the street from the park (Forest Avenue), but walk over to one of the many restaurants on Lake Street, pick out something and bring it over to the park where you can bring your own chairs, or rent one of their comfy chairs. You can also bring a blanket and later move to either one of the chairs or even to the bleacher seating they have set up. Knowing that “Hamlet” is over 2 1/2 hours (there is an intermission) ,you might want to opt for a comfortable seating arrangement.
“Hamlet” is the same old story as told many years ago, but this particular production has opted to fast forward the time to 1928, a time of gangsters, molls and jazz. The setting is now The Hotel Denmark as designed by Richard and Jaqueline Penrod. It is a stately set with large double doors and many pillars making it appear to be the lobby of the hotel. I must say the entrances and exits were very confusing as directed by Lavina Jadhwani. People come from all different angles, so we are unsure if this is indeed a hotel lobby despite the large D’s on the double doors. The actors also enter and exit from the audience on an aisle created in the grassy area leading to the stage. The stage incidentally is built into a cluster of trees, and the lighting, which truly comes into play about 15 minutes after the play starts, is a bit spotty at times. I realize that it is difficult to light an outside stage, but after a number of years, I would think they would get it.
This is a richly talented cast made up of some very experienced Shakespearean actors and some bright new faces. The play is a classic, so we cannot blame Shakespeare for anything involving this deep tragedy that deals with family loyalties, codes of honor, and justice. I suppose that might be the reason for bringing this into the “roaring twenties”, a time where gangs took over territories (AKA “Families”), music was wild, and the rules of society were in the midst of turbulence. That part came close to working for me. The costumes (Rachel Sypniewski) were true to the period and Jesse Gaffney’s props were most effective. This is a play filled with many famous lines and of course the “madness” scenes played to perfection by Michale McKeogh as Hamlet and Sara Pavlak as his wife Ophelia. Two very solid performances.
In fact, the cast was, as I stated earlier, quite talented and worked very hard to build their characters. Will Clinger does a great Ghost and a hearty Grave Digger. I just wondered why the grave was in the Hotel Lobby. Matthew Gall and Luke Daigle were the “hit men” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ( some of you may know that there is a play written about them, and as Paul Harvey might say,”The rest of the story and the lovely Kelly Lynn Hogan is a solid Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother). Jack Hicky plays Claudius as if he were Tony Soprano and Michael Mercier does a strong Laertes.
I guess the problem with the show are some missing links as to why the characters were coming from all sides of the set instead of specific places, and the sound system made some people heard and others not. The background music that plays before each act and during scene shifts is very “sign of the times’ and gets you into the mood, but I for one got lost a few times by the action on the stage. I am looking forward to giving this company another chance at the upcoming comedy. Now that I have found this hidden treasure in Oak Park, I want to keep with it and share the experience with you, my readers.
“Hamlet” will continue through July 19th with performances as follows:
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.
Wednesday July 2nd and July 16th will have 8 p.m. shows as well. NO PERFORMANCE on the fourth. Who wants to compete with fireworks?
Tickets are $27 (seniors $22 Students $15 and children under 12 and quiet dogs FREE.
You can purchase tickets by calling 708-445-4440 or the Oak Park Visitor Center at 1-888-OAK PARK or online at www.oakparkfestival.com
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchiacho.com, go to review Round-up and click at “Hamlet”