Preview: Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, opening September 4th

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks joins the ranks of theatres presenting all-female Shakespeare to the masses.

The Tragedy of Hamlet opens Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks’ 17th season with eleven performances at four different park locations.

If you don’t remember the gist of Hamlet from your high school readings, here is a quick summary from the UK-based Shakespeare Trust:

The ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet feigns madness, contemplates life and death, and seeks revenge. His uncle, fearing for his life, also devises plots to kill Hamlet. The play ends with a duel, during which the King, Queen, Hamlet’s opponent, and Hamlet himself are…. Spoiler alert- you can learn more at https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-plays/hamlet/

The show’s director, KJ Gilmer, spoke about the creating this production of The Tragedy of Hamlet: “Written between 1599 and 1601, Hamlet is the most produced, loved, and complicated of Shakespeare’s plays and is on the bucket lists of many actors and directors. I am fortunate to have this opportunity to take this journey and direct this play.

My personal journey with William Shakespeare began in Boston in 1993 when I designed costumes for several Shakespeare productions presented by Lesley University’s Oxford Street Players (OSP). Ms. Lisa “Riz” Risley, one of the founders of OSP, serves as dramaturg for our production.

I was embraced by OSP and slowly became a fan of the Bard. I began to get excited about the text, the characters, and the history that Shakespeare brings to life. Fast forward to January 2020, I was approached by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park’s Founder and Artistic Director, Jennifer Tober, to direct an all-female version of Hamlet.

I choose to cast two women of color as Hamlet to give the actresses an opportunity to say these beautiful words and perform a role that 20 years ago may not have been an option for them outside of an educational situation.  We are in a special place in theatre right now. Theatre is coming back but coming back different. The work that is being produced is embracing difference, change and is becoming more inclusive.The women in this production are strong, bold, resilient, and most of all dedicated, talented performers who worked tirelessly to bring this production to life.”

Bottom row: Harper York (Laertes), Melissa Franklin and Angela Hsu (who rotate the roles of Hamlet and Ophelia) Top row: Jenny Hoppes (Horatio), Zanny Laird (Claudius), and Rachel Mae Pulliam (Guildenstern)

All photos were taken at Frick Park. Photo credit: Catherine Welsh Aceto

This diverse cast brings an impressive body of classical and contemporary theatre and broadcast work to Hamlet.

Making her PsIP debut as Hamlet’s ambitious uncle Claudius and the ghost of his murdered father is Zanny Laird. The CMU alumna brings several decades of stage work to PSiP, include the world premiere of August: Osage County at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Three cast members are returning to PSIP after their debuts in the all-female Julius Caesar in 2019.  Irene Alby who appeared as emperor Caesar portrays the Queen Getrude of Denmark, mourning her husband while marrying his brother to remain queen. Harper York was Brutus, leadring an assassination in 2019 now plays Laertes, the vengeful brother of Ophelia, Hamlet’s rejected love.

The third is Melissa Franklin, who played the Soothsayer and more in Ceasar. Franklin rotates in the roles of Prince Hamet and Ophelia with San Francisco area native Angela Hsu. Hsu is  a seasoned actress, singer, voiceover artist, and director, with over ten years of experience. The rotation of actors in roles is a first at PSiP.

Also returning are Joanna Getting who led as Falstaff in PSiP’s Merry Wives. Moving from a digital debut in PsiP’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jenny has frequently been seen in the Cleveland Shakespeare. She portrays Hamlet’s comrade Horatio.

Gilmer again “We had to edit the script for time, clarity, and plot movement. Don’t worry; your favorites are there. I purposely let the performers present their characters to allow the audience to experience the richness of the text, the power of voice, and transcendent qualities of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”

Tonya Lynn, a longtime actor and fight choreographer, again is a team member along with Choreographer , Tomé Cousin, both of whom are assisted by Gretchen Bratslawski, a past actor and fight deputy. Cousin is associate professor of Dance at Carnegie Mellon Univeriity’s School of Drama. Lynn has appeared in roles ranging including Chorus in Henry V to Kent in King Lear. Production design is by Lisa Leibering.

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks Founding Artistic Director Jennifer Tober commented: “We are so excited to welcome you all back to our parks and invite you to share in our Hamlet and the timeless themes of the search for truth, the quest for love, the obsessiveness of revenge, to name a few. And why an all female cast? PSIP strives to level the artistic playing field for women and performers who identify as female….”anybody can play anything” is one of the company’s tenets. We like to push the envelope and create theatre that is new, fresh and accessible to everyone.

The Tragedy of Hamlet | September 4 – 26, 2021 at various Pittsburg area parks | Free admission | Donations requested online.

Specific performance times and locations: Sat and Sun Sept 4-5 Frick Park 2 PM | Fri Sept 10 Schenley Plaza 6 PM | Sat and Sun Sept 11-12 Highland Park 2 PM | Sat Sept 11 Schenley Plaza 6 PM (Sept 11 is a two-show day) | Fri Sept 17 Schenley Plaza 6 PM | Sat-Sun Sept 18-19 North Park Boathouse 2 PM | Sat-Sun Sept 25-26 2 PM at Frick Park 

For more info visit https://www.pittsburghshakespeare.com\

Categories: Show Previews

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