We’ll put on those shall praise your excellence
And set a double varnish on the fame
The Frenchman gave you; bring you in fine together
And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils; so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice,
Requite him for your father.
— Hamlet, Claudio, IV.vii
¶ A little more than a week ago, I was in Kansas City grading AP Literature and Language exams. This was not my first time at the Great Grade-a-Thon, but it was my first time in Missouri’s largest city. On the penultimate night, I treated myself to the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival‘s Hamlet premiere, which was celebrating both its 25th anniversary in Southmoreland Park and the naming of the street alongside the outdoor venue (modeled after New York’s Central Park festival) after its founder and chairman, Marilyn Strauss. It was a special evening added to the premiere, renaming, and that the show was fronted by television actor Nathan Darrow, most recently of House of Cards and Preacher. While the sloping hill was free to the public, I sprung for the $25 reserved plastic seats since I didn’t have my usual kit of blanket, cooler, and camping chair we keep handy for park Shakespeares. It was a beautiful evening flush with fireflies and a crowd of more than two hundred, by my quick headcount. The business district and conference hotels downtown had been, well, a ghost town for lack of a better word, so it was nice to see that there were in fact people living in the land of the Royals. I’d also had enough distance from the last Hamlet I’d seen—I often feel over-saturated by the Danish play—that I was in the right frame of mind and open, whether it be hawks or handsaws.
¶ What I got was a production gilded o’re with far too much stuff that did not meaningfully seem to contribute to what seemed to be the argument of the production: What if Hamlet is to blame?