Women Playing Hamlet: Confidence, comedy with community theatre

In Shakespeare’s time, men performed all the roles in his plays, even those of women. Shaking things up with a new play by William Missouri Downs, Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre is producing “Women Playing Hamlet.” As the name suggests, only women, — 11 of them — will play the 19 roles called for in the play.

 

“It’s getting a little revenge on Shakespeare for never casting women,” director of the play and vice-president of Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre Heather LaVerne told the Capital City Weekly.

The play, which only recently had its world premiere, is not Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” but a comedy about an actress named Jessica trying to gain the confidence to play the title character.

“She meets all these various people,” LaVerne explained of Jessica’s journey. “She meets a Shakespearean scholar, a gravedigger, her mom from Minnesota, a therapist who kind of has a Freudian approach to therapy – lots of different people.”

Grace Lee, a lawyer by day, is taking on the role of Jessica.

All the characters with the exception of one are shown through the filter of her memories, so it’s not linear.

Before she attempted Hamlet, Jessica was the star of a soap opera. She wants, however, to be perceived as a serious actress, Lee said.

“She kind of resents that fame and that character, and that’s kind of why she took on the role of Hamlet so she could prove to everybody, in fact everybody in the play, that she could be a real actress,” shesaid.

This is the first time Lee has ever been in a play.

“I’ve always been interested in theatre but I never really had … the confidence to go out and try out for anything,” she said. She knew LaVerne and stage director Richard Carter through her boyfriend’s involvement with Perseverance Theatre and they all encouraged her to try out for the show. Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre’s goal is to offer people who haven’t had the opportunity the chance to participate in theatre, LaVerne said.

“I identified very strongly with the main character who is an actress who is not confident that she can play Hamlet. And I was like ‘that’s pretty much me.’ I’m an actress, or person, who is not confident she can do this, and so it was really easy to put a lot of myself into this role,” Lee said.

“She read and she blew me away,” LaVerne said. “She is really talented.”

Lee said she’s nervous, but excited to work with the rest of the cast, many of whom were in Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre’s last play “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.”

LaVerne wanted to make it clear that this play is a comedy, not “Hamlet” itself. People don’t have to be a fan of Shakespeare or the time period to enjoy the play, she said.

Those familiar with the tragedy will recognize the iconic pose featured in the play’s posters: Lee holding a skull.

“The play is hilarious, and as the straight man in the play, I have a really hard time keeping my face straight and not laughing at everybody else’s characters,” Lee said of rehearsals.

The play is on Jan. 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15, always at 7 p.m. at McPhetres Hall inside the Church of the Holy Trinity. Tickets are $20.

• Contact reporter Clara Miller at clara.miller@morris.com.

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