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The Lady Hamlet

Review by Rebecca M. Alvin

In Sarah Schulman’s comedy The Lady Hamlet, which has its world premiere right here in town at the Provincetown Theater, after decades of trying to get it produced in New York, two actresses battle it out to be THE female Hamlet in a Broadway production. There’s Miss Margo Stayden Burns (Jennifer Van Dyck), a highly dramatic, overly confident narcissist, who as one character puts it has “an infectious way of diminishing others,” and interprets Hamlet as literally a female character. And then there is the more successful Madame Helene de Montpelier (Kate Levy), who had inspired Margo to play Hamlet in the first place and believes it is more of an accomplishment for a woman to play Hamlet as a man than playing him as a woman pretending to be a man. Both characters are also lesbians with lovers Mrs. Clara Shaw (Anne Stott) and Frances Richards (Laura Scribner), and both are also horrible people, antisemitic and racist—particularly against the Irish in Margo’s case. And so Schulman sets up a challenge to make likable characters who are self-absorbed, condescending, and prejudiced.

Happily, Schulman’s challenge is triumphantly overcome by the sharp comedic dialogue, impeccable pacing under David Drake’s direction, and the illuminating debates about Hamlet’s femininity, representation, and women’s roles in the theater circa 1920 when the play is set. The Lady Hamlet is hilarious at times, and while it is not new to talk about Hamlet as a woman (books have been written on the subject and Hamlet has been played by many women over the past 300 years, including the famous film portrayal by Sarah Bernhardt), the deeper discussion of women in theater and society that makes this an extraordinary theatrical experience. Interestingly, while the women ultimately come to some potent conclusions about their lack of representation in theater, they never come to grips with their own racist attitudes that exclude others from proper representation in the theater and elsewhere. These are imperfect people. They are real and complex, and like most of us, they have blind spots.

Van Dyck and Levy are as different in their portrayals of their characters as the characters are in their portrayals of Hamlet, but both have a powerful command of our attention, whether it is during their deeply intellectual discussions of Hamlet or in their comic scenes. The comedy in The Lady Hamlet is achieved not only through Schulman’s complexly drawn main characters, unaware as they are of their own tragic flaws, but also through the supporting characters, two actors (Frances and Sam, played by Brandon Cordeiro’s understudy Peter Toto in this performance) who not only put up with Margo’s behavior, but actually enjoy it in some masochistic way, and the truly fantastic John Shuman who plays Leo Lefkowitz, the Jewish producer who puts up with the two women’s repulsive attitudes as only someone whose been around prima donnas for a long time can do.

The Lady Hamlet is performed Mondays – Thursdays, 7 p.m., through July 21 at Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St. For tickets ($40) and information call 508.487.7487 or visit Proof of vaccination and masks are required for all performances.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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