The New Ensemble is set to open a female-driven version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet next week at the Broken Leg Stage in Fresno.
The production not only features TNE founding member Brooke Aiello in the typically male lead, but showcases the talents of four other women in the eleven-person cast. This, too, is rare for a play usually performed with as little as two actresses.
TNE Artistic Director Heather Parish said her casting selections were as simple as “I had several incredibly talented women audition, and they were cast.”
However, once it became obvious that the show was going to end up taking on a feminine mystique, there were issues that needed to be immediately addressed.
“We adjusted things like giving the society more matriarchal themes and making sure it was one that would be open to a lesbian relationship,” said Parish.
This meant lifting the text out of Elizabethan England and placing it in a post-modern, dystopian world; a concept that not only allows for the mostly out-and-open gay love story between Hamlet and Ophelia, but also helps get the best use out of the confined space that is the Broken Leg Stage.
The girl-on-girl love affair is one of the more obvious modifications to Shakespeare’s script, but according to Aiello, at its core, it’s not much different than what the Bard originally intended.
“Love is love and people are people,” she said. “The betrayals are still the same.”
Cast members agree that most of the changes brought on by newly female perspectives are subtle, yet beneficial to the storytelling.
According to Gabriela Lawson, who plays Hamlet’s BFF Horatio, “It’s been fun to discover the nuances of affection between girlfriends not readily provided in the traditional telling where both characters are male. The bond of sisterhood allows for a tenderness, a closeness and an intimacy exclusive to the love between female friends.”
TNE founding member Kristen Lyn Crase plays Hamlet’s mother Gertrude.
“Playing opposite a female Hamlet allows a certain amount of rivalry to develop between the characters,” she said. “A mother-daughter relationship has such a different feel to it than a mother-son one.”
Parish said that in order to make this vision work, she and her cast had to “come to terms with the idea that these female characters are not always going to be Heroines…they’re flawed and confused and occasionally unsympathetic-but that is a way in which we need to come to grips with women’s equality. Women are as allowed to be fully flawed people as much as men are, even while their strength can see them through.”
Hamlet opens April 13that 8 p.m. at the Broken Leg Stage and runs for three weekends. Additional shows are: April 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 at 8 p.m. and April 14, 21, and 28 at 2 p.m.
Will Call Reservations: (559) 457-9613
Fri/Sat Evenings: $15 Walk Ins/$12 reservation or online in advance. Thu eve/Sat Matinee: $10.
BROKEN LEG STAGE
1470 N. Van Ness at Home Street between Floradora and McKinley in Fresno’s Tower District.
*Appropriate for high school and up, parental guidance suggested. No latecomers admitted. For questions, email Artistic Director, Heather Parish at email@example.com