Theatre in the United States is in the midst of a deep, important and ground-breaking conversation about gender and racial equality on stage. Can actors play historical figures of a different race? (Answer: YES.) Can women play roles originally written for men (Answer: YES.) And while this evolution in the theatre is a positive step, it’s curious to think about how an individual actor might process being cast in a non-traditional way.
In Women Playing Hamlet, a young female actor, Jessica, is cast as Hamlet. The rehearsal process leads to a breakdown of sorts with a brutal and and hysterically funny examination of Jessica’s life as Midwestern Millennial woman who shed her accent during her MFA training and now survives in New York as a barista and occasional soap-opera star. Jessica, with the help of a rotating cast of outrageous characters from her life, try to figure out if the iconic Shakespearean role can be played by a young woman, and, if indeed, Hamlet might actually be female.
Literature scholars will appreciate the sharp debate in the script, but you really don’t have to know anything about the Bard to laugh out loud at this Mel Brooks-esque comedy, presented by Tongue in Cheek Theatre Productions.
Go See a Show! correspondent Tara Gadomski sat down with TIC Artistic Director & actor Jake Lipman, the show’d director Molly Ballerstein, and actor Jen Teska—listen in as they discuss the progression of their own thinking on Shakespeare, where to source six prop skulls, why Tongue in Cheek has thrived for the past eleven years, and the central question of the play: can a woman play Hamlet?
“Hamlet is one of those iconic roles. I’ve heard—usually ac-TORS—say that there is ‘before Hamlet’ and ‘after Hamlet’ in their career…When I was younger I struggled with the idea of a female Hamlet because I was trying to figure out how it would work in the context of the rest of the play. Gender politics are such a part of the play that when I was younger I couldn’t wrap my head around how it would work. But the more I’ve studied the play, and looked at the role, the more interested I am in seeing a female Hamlet…Hamlet as a woman. I think with the right director and right actress, I would love to see that.”