The woman’s part
Two local companies shake up Shakespeare
Wilkerson Theatre (formerly The California Stage)1723 25th St.
Sacramento, CA 95816
“The meaning of a poem is always another poem,” wrote Harold Bloom in his classical work of literary criticism, The Anxiety of Influence. It might also be said, then, that the meaning of a play is always another play, that the truest form of criticism is to not only revise but re-envision a play.
That’s essentially what any production is, taking on the elements of a particular time and place, as well as the tastes and styles of its director, production crew and, of course, its actors. Two local companies, Sacramento’s Resurrection Theatre and Roseville’s Alternative Arts Collective, will make new plays of old when they open their upcoming productions based on two of Shakespeare’s best-known works, Macbeth and Hamlet.
But more than just changed settings or revised scripts, these productions are true revisions, in the sense of seeing completely anew. The title characters, Macbeth and Hamlet, will be played by women and as women.
“I’m going to look at this as a companion piece to the original Macbeth,” explained Benjamin T. Ismail, who is directing Macbeth: Resurrected from a script adapted by Eric Baldwin. “It’s not a replacement piece or a retelling of that story.” Instead, this rendering of Macbeth highlights different aspects of the play.
“Having a woman in the lead brings out the romantic elements,” Ismail said. “Not the lovey-dovey romance, but the romantic ideals of war, and the romantic ideas of the relationships between parents and children.”
David Blue Garrison, who is directing AAC’s production of Hamlet, pointed out that casting a female Hamlet illuminates the character more clearly.
“Hamlet spends so much time discussing women and being frustrated with women, particularly Gertrude,” Garrison said. “I thought it would be interesting to see Hamlet struggling with trying to avoid becoming like her mother.” He also noted that, usually, Ophelia seems like “just a vehicle for Hamlet’s sanity, but making that a lesbian relationship opens up a whole different dynamic.”
Lindsay Grimes, who will be playing Hamlet in the AAC show, said that being a woman in the part “produces an interesting level of tension with the male characters.” She pointed to Claudius’ critique of Hamlet’s mourning for his father—“’tis unmanly grief; it shows a will most incorrect to heaven”—and noted that it “takes on a more gendered meaning when he’s talking about an actual woman.”
For the female Macbeth, there are mommy issues. “I think what will be the most shocking part of this production, for purists, is that Lady Macbeth is my mother,” said Tygar Hicks, who’ll play the warrior queen.
“Power is pleasurable,” she said. “So if my mother feels power over me, she’s turned on by herself.”
Both directors spoke at length about how the casting decision—which in both cases will include altering pronouns in the script to make the characters fully female—works to unmask identity. Ismail said that actual masks would be a part of the production, both to address the question of identity and to heighten the sense of the macabre.
The AAC production will make use of makeup fitted to each character that either becomes heavier or is removed. The idea is “to strip these people down to their characters,” said Garrison, “so that the audience isn’t influenced by social status, sex or sexuality.”
And the audience will be left to decide if, as Shakespeare wrote in Cymbeline, there really is “no motion that tends to vice in man, but I affirmit is the woman’s part.”