The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | Crooked Path’s “Hamlet” at The James displays grief and despair onstage

Shown for only four nights, Crooked Path Theatre’s rendition of this classic story makes Shakespeare accessible to the Iowa City community.
Kathy Le
Actors interact during a Hamlet showing at the James Theatre in Iowa City on Sept. 21, 2023.

“Hamlet” is one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and continues to cement him as one of the greatest playwrights in history. Local up-and-coming theatre company Crooked Path performed their over three-hour interpretation at The James Theater Sept. 21-24. The play displayed grief in its raw form onstage.

Act one opened with the appearance of King Hamlet’s ghost, played by actor John Smick, revealing Claudius, his brother, killed him for the throne of Denmark. Hamlet, played by actor Ray Vanek, vowed to avenge his father.

Vanek’s interpretation of Hamlet’s character was sassy and snarky, making him resemble the “bratty prince” trope. During the show, the audience had to decide if Hamlet was going insane or if he was just a spoiled narcissist — Vanek left that unanswered.

In act two, Hamlet sought out actors to put on a play depicting his father’s murder to test Claudius’s reaction. Matthew James’ portrayal of Claudius felt regal and magical. I very well found myself believing that he didn’t kill his brother.

Act three displayed Hamlet rejecting Ophelia, played by actor Genevieve Wisdom. Her interpretation of the character felt light, feminine, and delicate. Her spiral into her own madness later in the play was very believable because the only man she loved rejected her and then killed her father.

Act four was Ophelia’s subsequent funeral, where her brother, Laertes, joined Claudius in a plot to kill Hamlet. Laertes was played by actor Katy Hahn, and she gave an outstanding performance, to say the least. Her interpretation of the character felt so strong and confident in who he was — the opposite of Hamlet.

The live fencing choreography in act five was well worth the decently long wait. It felt like the characters’ lives were truly at stake. The chemistry between Hahn and Vanek during their fight was electric.

I have personally never liked the nearly sudden “everyone is dead now” plot twist at the end, but this performance had enough tension built to make it feel realistic. I have never mourned Claudius’s death until James played him.

Other highlights included actor Bob Mussett as Polonius and the Gravedigger. While his interpretations of both characters were vastly different, they were equally as hilarious.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by actors Andrew Wilkes and Caleb Marner respectively, were an incredible comic duo. Both actors always had the best facial expressions.

RELATED: Crooked Path Theatre to present a weekend of ‘Hamlet’ at the James

Ophelia’s descent into madness was haunting. Wisdom had the entire audience holding their breath, feeling empathy for her plot line. Her performance spoke to the gender roles she was forced into: wanting to love and be loved while everything is taken away from her simultaneously.

Overall, this was an incredibly enjoyable production of “Hamlet.” While it was long, running just over three hours, Crooked Path conveyed the essence of “Hamlet” in its entirety, making live Shakespeare ever more accessible to Iowa City.

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About the Contributors
Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter
Zhenya is a fourth year theatre design and journalism double major at UI. They are passionate about artistry and creativity. They are from Lebanon, KY.
Kathy Le, Photojournalist
Kathy Le is a fourth-year student at The University of Iowa majoring in 3D design and Art History. This is her first year working as a photojournalist of Daily Iowan.