Directed by Matthew Wills
Produced by (re)discover theatre company
At Live Bait Theatre, Chicago
Bold production of Hamlet becomes a tour de force for Jonathan Matteson
The show I witnessed at Live Bait Theatre was a bold endeavor playing out a familiar story. A young man from Kansas University arrives in Chicago in October of 2009 determined to “make it” as an actor. Jon Matteson worked at developing his craft with Improv class as well as numerous class with famed Shakespearean interpreter and teacher Susan Hart over the next two years while auditioning at most Chicago theatres. Matteson, Matthew Wills, and Miriam Reuter eventually did things “Chicago Style” – they formed their own theatre troupe.
Their first production sure was bold – Hamlet – with Willis directing, Matteson playing Hamlet and Reuter playing Ophelia. Normally, I’d stay away from a fledgling theatre troupe, especially one attempting Shakespeare since my experience contains several butchered and brutalized amateurish storefront productions of The Bard’s plays. But, since I know Jon Matteson, I agreed to review his show. I prayed that it and he would be at least worthy since honesty compels me to “call it like I see it.” I realized that brutal honesty is required in these situations.
Well, I’m happy to say that a combination of hard work, considerable skill and cooperation by the entire cast and troupe made (re)discover theatre’s Hamlet a surprising fine first production. Under Matthew Wills’ innovative direction in the tiny Live Bait “bucket” theatre, Shakespeare’s Danish tragedy unfolds as a well-spoken heartfelt work. The quick pace with clever use of lighting (by Erin Knott) added the proper atmosphere for the foreboding story.
The players, for the most part, did yeomen work with Dan Toot’s Claudius, Miriam Reuter’s Ophelia, Charlie Askenaizer’s Horatio, and Jessica Shoemaker’s Laertes particularly effective. But the actor who bravely tackles the role of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet must anchor the show. Jon Matteson sure was up to the task of rendering a tour de force performance as Hamlet. Matteson’s portrayal exuded the many moods of the Prince as he moves from charming to mad in a complex enigmatic performance. Matteson commands the stage with his superb enunciation and understanding of the text. He moves smoothly from joy to melancholy to rage in one of the most compelling Hamlets you’ll see. We are totally engaged with the revengeful prince. Matteson delivers Hamlet’s soliloquies with proper in-character honesty devoid of the trap of over dramatizing the famous speeches. Matteson’s performance was remarkable as he exhibits the skill of a veteran Shakespeare player. Let’s hope that Bob Mason, the casting director at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Charles Newell from Court Theatre see this talented young man. If he continues to learn his craft, Jon Matteson could be a tremendous classical actor. He boldly made a statement as Hamlet. His cast and crew also let it be know that there is another young, hungry troupe in town. Congratulations. For a mere $12 this Hamlet calls.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2012
At Live Bait Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL