When in springe tyme a younge man’s fancy turns to …. All manner of new things! One seldom has as much chance to blog as one would wish. On Friday the 13th of March I had the opportunity to attend the Rolling World Premiere of “Women Playing Hamlet – a Comedy about a Tragedy”. Written by William Missouri Downs, directed by Patrick Flick, Performed by the Gamut Theater Group at the Gamut Theatre, Strawberry Square, Harrisburg PA. http://www.gamuttheatre.org/ The production runs from March 13-29 2015 and show starts at 7:30 PM.
“Women Playing Hamlet” is William Missouri Downs take on what is perhaps the most famous of Shakespeare’s Plays “Hamlet”. It is not Hamlet. It is about an actor who is given the role of Hamlet to play, the most sought after role of any actor in the English speaking theater world! The player of Hamlet is not only beset by the acting demands of this role, but also the ghosts of all the great actors who have played this role before. Playwright Downs does manage to cover most of the bases of the original plot, one way or another.
Bill Downs has crafted this play to be performed both by small theater companies and larger college type theater troupes. It is a play about women playing Shakespeare. This production had four actors, period. There are about 21 different roles in the play. It would be the perfect play for any group except for one teeny problem; all the roles are played by women! Actually this need not be an insurmountable difficulty. If I were producing this play I would have male cast members take on the female roles! As a sophisticated male theater goer, I did find that most of the male characterizations had a decidedly feminine perspective. Of course this might have been by design, but I don’t think so. I do exclude the lead role from this evaluation. To my mind the role of Hamlet can be played by any gifted and committed actor regardless of age or gender. When I was in elementary school one of the 6th grade teachers put on a Shakespeare interpretation with her class every year. Hamlet and the “Scottish Play” were the usual suspects. Third graders on up were the audience. I’ve been a Shakespeare fan ever since. Thank you, Mrs Ginnie Stage!
Some notes on the technical aspects of this play: in the after show discussion Bill indicated he had attempted to write this as a “two person” show. How Sophiclean! It didn’t work. He rewrote it using his strength as a comic playwright. Twenty odd roles! Well there were four actors in this play, normally only three on stage at one time, occasionally a fourth serving as a masked chorus. Shades of Euripides “Medea”! He characterized this as a “Satyr Play” then changed horses and called it more like Aristophanes, (Lysistrata). I accept his judgement but personally thought it was more akin to the Latin Tragicomedies of Plautus. Well, that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and Will Shakespeare did “borrow” from all these classical playwrights. And it does work!
The director, Patrick Flick, did a marvelous job in this production. The Gamut Stage at Strawberry Square is small; budgets are tight. Flick utilized his talents and several Shakespearean techniques to make this show work.
The Gamut Theatre Group is in the process of renovating a nearby building to provide a full service, full size theater. If you have some spare change you would like to contribute to this effort, go to https://www.givingtools.org/gamut/
This is a play about actors playing actors, There are four human actors and one machine presence playing about twenty roles. The Actors are all women, all excellent in their portrayals, and – not to get catty about it – this play is a Mouse Trap. Since each player is involved with many roles it is difficult to single out their individual contributions to what makes this play a success. A brief mention of each is all I will hazard. Tara Herweg-Mann is cast in the principle role. Regardless of what else “Women Playing Hamlet” is, it is a rite of passage tale. Tara plays the part very well indeed. When she finally chooses to take action, the play is quickly brought to a successful conclusion! Amy Burke plays the older actor, Gwen. I personally found her portrayal the most engaging one in this play. “All the world is a stage”: Kathryn Miller and Melissa Nicholson each play many roles and constitute the Comic Chorus. Kathryn represents the Daughter figure, Melissa the Mother figure. Both are slaves, comic slaves to be sure, to their profession. This is straight out of Plautus. Shakespeare may be the Bard of the English Speaking world, but Titus Maccius Plautus was esteemed by the Romans as their greatest dramaturge. His works are the oldest surviving Latin plays. That is about 600 years worth of theater history, good reader! Kathryn’s portrayals resonate with the vim and vigour of Youth. Mellissa’s approach is more old school. She clearly understands the Myron Cohen school of comedy! Her short performance as the Grave Digger was the best Shakespearean portrayal in the play, in my opinion.
The machine presence I mentioned is very typical of Gamut Theatre productions. There are a couple of large screen monitors that are used to advance sub-plots in the storyline. While not integral to the play, they add to the fun. In this particular play I rather quickly lost interest in the sideshow because the main action of the Actors was so engaging. My loss no doubt. I hope that Gamut Theatre Group continues to use this non-Equity “actor” in their productions in their new theater. I think the outreach potential to various disabled patrons afforded by this device will benefit everyone.
I think I’ve about run out of steam here.
Oh yeah – the conclusion to the play.
Oh, it was great!
Oh! It was silent!