Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Samual Cheeseman as Hamlet with Musicians Erick Rivera, Amber Hugee, and Martin Gutfeldt. Photo by Zack Whittington.
By Kelsey McGrath
I will openly admit: I am not a Shakespeare person. I always found his language inaccessible and his stories, confusing. I appreciate his groundbreaking contributions, but could never force myself to read anything outside of a classroom curriculum. Enjoyment seemed pretentious. But Midsommer Flight’s production of HAMLET is a must do for the ideal Chicago summer.
Midsommar Flight is a professional, not-for-profit theater company whose mission is to produce high quality, accessible performances of Shakespeare’s plays in Chicago. Each summer, the company tours the city and brings free Billy Shakes to the masses. This was my first Midsommer production; they truly lived up to their vision of quality and access.
I’m always been interested in how companies breathe new life into canonical work. To meet audiences on their level, Midsommar’s HAMLET is an hour and forty-five minutes from start to finish. Perfect for a 21st Century audience’s attention span. Their cut is succinct and tells the full story; no character is unimportant and nothing is unclear. The title player, Samual Cheeseman, is a fascinating actor to watch. He’s onstage for essentially the whole show and keeps our attention; he personalizes Hamlet in an explosive, humorous way. Bianca Phipps also brings an honest, energetic dynamic to Ophelia that can’t be ignored. The whole cast is substantial; they engage in storytelling that makes the text real and entertaining. This production also employs original, live music to shape the mood of several scenes. Composed by Elizabeth Rentfro and Erick Rivera, these moments are eerie and rich. It’s surprising to see an electric guitar adjacent to a soliloquy, but this soon becomes the rule of the world. In an outdoor space where so much is out of control, this device helps draw the audience in.
The entire experience of free Shakespeare in the park with wine, blanket, dogs, friends, community, and exciting art, is so appealing. So casual. So down to Earth. The freedom granted to shape the Shakespeare experience is paramount for access. It’s also reminiscent of how the work used to be enjoyed. Midsommar’s dismissing of airs in the open air makes this show a Chicago summer absolute.