See it if
You'd like an interesting fresh take on Hamlet, genders switched. Uneven cast and direction, but Griffin is quite compelling.
Don't see it it
You like your Hamlet straight, not reimagined.
There are problems with this A.N.O.N. Production: an uneven cast; unnecessary Brit accents that shouldn’t have been attempted; an amphetamine-pace that often left the actors sounding like hummingbirds. In addition, the political questions raised in the program description of this "gender-bending" take on Hamlet seem beside the point in practice, and almost describe a different, more militant production.
Still, what this production does manage to do is give this all-too-familiar script a fresh hearing and reading. Presenting Hamlet as a woman raised as a man, and Ophelia for the most part as a fey, anger-suppressed milquetoast is a surprisingly effective choice that sheds new light & life into this classic work.
Ashley Griffin, who also directed, plays Hamlet with verve, conviction & commitment, and is the heart of this show, discovering heretofore unrealized layers and terrific physicality in the text. The “too, too solid flesh” Hamlet considers as she unbinds her breasts in frustration and anger jolts, and “Frailty, thy name is woman!” suddenly makes very real sense for a change.
In truth, this Hamlet only comes alive when she’s onstage. The scenes with Ryan Clardy’s Ophelia are the best, the most interesting choices and simultaneous layers of anger, love and frustration wonderfully played with arresting bits of physical business. The Nunnery scene especially, but likewise her playfulness during “Shall I lie in your lap?” and also the Fishmonger scene with James Luse’s terrific Polonius. For his part, Clardy manages to pull off his Ophelia’s listless weakness without falling into caricature.
There are rough spots to be sure, Ms. Griffin’s occasional dropped ends of sentences, mumbled or tossed away lines, drops in vocal projection. Her advice to the Players rushed by, as well as “To be or not to be,” and her direction generally seemed intent on brisk action.
Additionally, there’s some initial confusion as to the male Ophelia’s love for the publicly male Hamlet; the questions of gender equality/identity issues melding into possible same-sex LGBT issues brought up by Polonius’ advice are never quite resolved, and Ms. Griffin’s easy masculinity contrasting with her very female, driven sexuality in the kissing scenes add to the questions.
But this is all to the good. Ms. Griffin’s work here brings to mind a young Lisa Wolpe, whose exhilarating Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender appeared for too short a run this last summer. In this case, Griffin’s actual gender preference or orientation is irrelevant and unknown — she does both with such conviction — but that there's such ambiguity is a testament to her talent and potential as an actress.
This Hamlet isn’t for everyone but, problems aside, it’s a memorable one with much potential.