Hamlet (Darragh Kennan) shows his “words, words, words” to Polonius (David Pichette) in Seattle Shakespeare Co’s Hamlet. Photo courtesy: John Ulman.

As the story goes: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy’s brother poisons him and steals girl, boy’s son is driven to madness, and everyone winds up dead. Oh—did I just spoil the ending? It’s not like you’ve haven’t heard it before.

Seattle Shakespeare Company has chosen to revisit Hamlet for its 20th anniversary season—it’s only the second time they’ve tackled Shakespeare’s classic tragedy—but the power of their new production, directed by John Langs, lies in its simplicity: subdued, sardonic monologues and stark staging.

The first scene is performed in complete darkness, with the voices of the watchmen echoing through the black like the calls of sailors on the open sea. You know you’re in for a treat when a production is captivating in the dark—when you hang on every word even though you know the plot won’t get really juicy for another hour and a half. Lighting designer Geoff Korf adds depth to the soliloquies with the contrast of shadow and light. Actors are often costumed entirely in white, with the stage bathed in such blinding light, it’s hard to avoid squinting. Darragh Kennan—as the grieving Prince of Denmark, clad all in black—is the sole star in an inverted night sky. His loneliness is palpable. Things don’t improve when the ghost of Hamlet’s father (Charles Leggett) arrives—with a gaze so terrifying, you worry he’s perilously close to sucking your soul out of your ear. It’s as intimate a performance I’ve ever seen of Hamlet.

When the lights went out for good three and a half hours later, I sat in the dark, stunned. And beaming—which is probably not how one should react to tragedy, but a good sign nonetheless.

Hamlet runs at Center House Theatre through Dec 5. Tickets are $20-$38.

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