There’s something about performing Shakespeare outdoors in the summer that seems to bring out the best in his plays. Maybe it’s that the audience so clearly loves the Bard and listens so intently you can feel it, even in the back of the crowd. Or maybe it’s the summer night itself, rich and fertile but as inky black as any winter evening, embodying the contradiction in Shakespeare’s best plays, like Hamlet, of characters who yearn at once for death and life. Or maybe it’s the actors: so many high-caliber performers are available during the slow season. Certainly this is what happens every year at Shakespeare on the Green: the two-weekend productions usually feature great actors who speak Shakespeare’s words with authority and understanding–alone enough to justify a trip to Lake Forest. But this year everyone who loves Shakespeare’s five-act meditation on youth and mortality must see Scott Parkinson as Hamlet. This young, energetic actor re-creates the character in his own image, playing him as a confused, whiny, slightly coddled grad student suddenly confronting new thoughts and feelings: Parkinson’s Hamlet must act like a man, and he has no idea what to do. Nor does he have any models– like modern-day D.C., Denmark is bereft of grown-ups. Parkinson is so vivid and intense in this crucible that he stayed in character even when Horatio missed his cue and Hamlet had to exit and drag the tardy actor onstage. Barat College, front lawn (or in the Drake Theater in case of bad weather), 700 E. Westleigh, Lake Forest, 847-295-2620. Through July 27: Thursdays-Sundays, 8 PM (grounds open at 6 PM for picnicking, and food will be sold on the premises). Free.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still.