Gender bent ‘Hamlet’ breathes new life into the Bard’s classic at Quill Theatre this month
“Fraility thy name is woman” takes on a whole new meaning when Hamlet is being played by a woman.
Even though there is a 200 year tradition of the fairer sex playing Hamlet, the titular character is still rarely played by a woman and as a woman. But after thirty years of directing Shakespeare plays Dr. Jan Powell is more than up to the challenge.
(Top image - Molly Hood as Hamlet and Alex Wiles as Ophelia via The Quill Theatre)
In every other sense of the word the Quill Theatre and this production’s performance space, Agecroft Hall, are traditional.
Agecroft hall is the only elizabethan performance space in the country, and has a building on its grounds that actually stood in England during Shakespeare’s time. The Quill Theatre creates many shakespearean productions every year. However Powell decided to go into the audition process with her mind on a more modern retelling.
“I opened that audition up so that all kinds of actors could read for all kinds of roles.” Said Powell. “I wasn’t necessarily deciding from the offset what the genders were or what the racial makeup of the cast was,or what the family relationships were. I wanted to really open it up and see what happened.”
Powell admits that she wasn’t exclusively looking to cast Hamlet and Ophelia as a same sex couple. However when she saw her two leads( Molly Hood as Hamlet and Alex Wiles as Ophelia) read an emotional scene together during the audition process she knew that this would add a whole new dynamic to to the already tumultuous relationship.
Molly Hood as Hamlet and Jeff Clevenger as the Gravedigger via The Quill Theatre
“Watching these two women so in love and not being able to make it a life long partnership was absolutely heart wrenching.That to me embodied what Shakespeare was trying to put in that text.” Having the two unrequited lovers played by two woman helps modern audiences understand the real tragedy of the two not being able to be together.
Powell added that having the show open on the heels of the supreme court’s long awaited decision to legalize same sex marriage nationwide was an amazing coincidence.
What Powell finds most amazing is how the non-traditional casting choice she made really brings the text to life and gives it new and richer meaning. Hamlet’s relationships with her family, friends, and lovers all have new context when played as a woman. After years of being a shakespearean director finding new meaning is testament the casting choices and The Bard himself.
“I know how those scenes have been done before, I don’t know how they need to be done this time. So its my assumptions about the relationships between Claudius and Hamlet, and Hamlet and Gertrude that may be very different this time.”
Ultimately the challenge for the cast and creative team of any Shakespearean performance is finding a way to have the audience connect with centuries old text. Powell describes performing in a Shakespearean show as “The olympics of acting.”
”When done incorrectly these famous comedies and tragedies seem so out of date that they appear to have no place in the year 2015. However Powell and her cast crew seem up to the challenge, they definitely understand the task at hand.
“My job is to get us as modern american human beings to be big enough vessels to receive the size of what’s happening in this play.”
Hamlet runs July 9th through August 2nd, Performances begin at 7:30pm Thursday through Sunday. For ticketing information visit QuillTheatre.org
“It’s large, it’s wide open, which makes it easy to envision an experience for the audience where things are coming at them from all different angles…”August 31, 2016
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