Chase Howard & Brennen Amonett in Hamlet. Photo: Elizabeth Cherry Siebert


By William Shakespeare
Directed by Amy Attaway 

A review by Tory Parker

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.

I think of Shakespeare as I think of scripture: often decontextualized to the point of becoming nonsensical, sometimes a useful tool for creating a common literary understanding, and I was way too young when I read it the first time. I realized about 20 minutes into the show at Iroquois Park that I wasn’t as familiar with the plot of Hamlet as I’d led myself to believe. It’s a fallacy I think a lot of us carry around-–that we know Hamlet or other Shakespeare plays well because we interact with random references to them every day. And Hamlet is…Hamlet! It’s the most famous of famous plays; it’s largely accepted as “the best” play by “the best” playwright; it’s the biggest fish in the biggest pond. We know that and we know there’s a skull, there’s a ghost, there’s a…Denmark? It gets fuzzy from there. 

But fear not! Our friends at Kentucky Shakespeare have put together a spry, 90-minute cut of Hamlet that gives you all the juicy details with a dextrous and enthusiastic troupe for their 2023 parks tour. This year’s tour is going to a record-breaking 37 stops this spring, all completely free. Chances are, they’re coming to a park or center near you, and I IMPLORE you not to miss it. 

Because you might think you know Hamlet, or might think you don’t, and you might feel content with that. But if 400 years later actors and directors are still finding new things to explore in this play, chances are something different will come to the surface than it did when you read it in high school English. 

Before the show even begins, the pre-show playlist of mid-aughts alt punk pop tells us this production will not feature dublets and tights. Stylistically, we’re decidedly modern–but with some quirky costume additions for characters such as Rosencrantz (Chase Howard) and Guildenstern (Jason Pavlovich), the Dumb and Dumber of Renaissance literature. Most importantly is our Hamlet (Brennen Amonett), in his black jeans and black Chucks and his untucked white button down with his black painted nails, gives off such begrudgingly wealthy punk teen vibes you can practically smell it. (It would smell expensive, probably Tom Ford. But in, like, an ironic way.)

In Attaway’s envisioning, Hamlet is in what I would affectionately call his “Little Shit” era. This is a character that every hob-nob fancy pants actor worth his salt has played with excruciating gravitas. (Not to say Amonett lacks his own kind of gravitas.) But this Hamlet is a whining princeling, rain-clouding his way into a depression spiral that ends up deadly. This might be gauche to admit, but it’s downright delightful to watch. Hamlet’s witticisms and barbs are taunting and knowing rather than an apparent descent into madness. We get the sense that rather than being broken by this tragedy, he finds a strange vindication and purpose in his revenge. Who needs a father figure when you have a murder plot? In Little Shit Hamlet’s world, everyone else is mad, and he’s the only one talking any sense around here. 

But Little Shit Hamlet doesn’t work without a sensible, earnest chorus around him. Chase Howard and Jason Pavlovich, in all their characters, are the rubber to Hamlet’s glue. Adama Abramson is sweet and nervous as his worried mother, Gertrude, carrying a love for her son so pure on her side and so rotten on his. Jared Brandt Hoover’s Polonius is slimy and ambitious, simple in his theories and desires, to his own detriment. They are all well-foiled against Louis Robert Thompson’s Claudius/Ghost. In this world of shifty courtiers flitting in and out of the story, he is stoic and authoritative—all the more fun to break him like the rest. 

Ilana DeAngelo’s Ophelia is fascinating alongside Little Shit Hamlet. She starts so sharp and clear and beautiful until her mind is split open with tragedy and the oozing, bleeding heart upon her sleeve results in her tragic demise. You get the sense that this version of Ophelia and Hamlet, also sharp and lovely in his prime, also full of big feelings, might actually have been well-suited for each other at one point, in the same way, that a hand grenade is well-suited for a bonfire. 

But ultimately this show is Amonett’s to win or lose—and he doesn’t miss. I’m still learning new ways to be impressed with him. For those who saw him as Hamlet in Kentucky Shakespeare’s Halloween production, Enter Ghost, do not miss him doing the full shebang. Because underneath Little Shit Hamlet’s snarling exterior is a young man, loved and privileged with an easy life, who in one act of betrayal has lost his father, mother, and uncle. How could he ever trust anyone when the three people who should have protected him are now either gone or are his enemy? Why exist at all when existing hurts so much? What if post-existence is, horrifyingly, even worse? You sometimes feel that Amonett will crack and spill open in front of you—he is a raw nerve, laid completely bare. Over the course of 90 minutes you will want to cradle him as he calls out for his father, laugh as he taunts his well-meaning friends, and scream as he rips the world down around him. 

The fact that we get a production of Hamlet this well done, with actors this talented, for FREE, 37 times this spring is a gift. Don’t waste it! Take your friends, take your family, and have a big, juicy conversation about it afterward. What does this show want you to leave thinking about?? People have been asking that for 400 years, and now it’s our turn. 

Featuring Adama Abramson, Brennen Amonett, Ilana DeAngelo, Jared Brandt Hoover, Chase Howard, Jason Pavlovich, and Louis Robert Thompson 


Kentucky Shakespeare

April 1 – May 21, 2023
Parks across the Greater Louisville area:

Tory Parker, originally from West Virginia, is now a proud Kentuckian as well. In Louisville, she’s worked and/or performed with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company OutCast, Highview Arts Center, and director Emily Grimany. She is a co-founding artist of the queer theatre collaborative, three witches shakespeare. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.