URBANA — As Mathew Green appeared opposite Lindsey Gates-Markel four years ago in "Rabbit Hole" at the Station Theatre, he couldn't help but think that she would make a most excellent Hamlet.
Green believes Gates-Markel has the ability to convey emotions, particularly conflicted thoughts.
"Also, she's an actor who shows a lot of intelligence on the stage," he said. "You get the sense that she's not following blocking, but that she's making decisions in the moment. You also get the sense that what she's doing is organic and spontaneous. And that's Hamlet."
Hence, the young woman appears as the Prince of Denmark in "Hamlet," opening tonight and running through Nov. 17 at the Station.
Green directs and adapted the play, not changing the language but shortening the script to two hours and 15 minutes, down from the usual four-hour run.
"It's edited nicely so it doesn't really lose anything," said Lincoln Machula, who plays Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. "All the recognizable speeches are there."
And Machula has no problem with a female playing Hamlet, saying Gates-Markel is a great actress and that's all that counts.
Also, he and Green cited the long tradition of women taking on the famed role; in his research Machula even found a book, "Women as Hamlet," at the University of Illinois Library.
"The first Hamlet on film was Sarah Bernhardt," reads the Cambridge Press blurb on the book by Tony Howard. "Probably the first Hamlet on radio was Eve Donne. Ever since the late 18th century, leading actresses have demanded the right to play the role — Western drama's greatest symbol of active consciousness and conscience.
"Their iconoclasm, and Hamlet's alleged 'femininity,' have fascinated playwrights, painters, novelists and filmmakers from Eugene Delacroix and the Victorian novelist Mary Braddon to Angela Carter and Robert Lepage."
Gates-Markel, who portrays Hamlet as a contemporary, androgynous character, was intimidated at first to take on one of theater's most famous roles.
"But I've worked with Mathew before, and I trust his judgment and his faith in me," she said. "Now I feel excited. I've been able to play around with it a lot and make it my own."
She believes the emotions raised in the play relate to people today, no matter what their gender.
"The things Hamlet goes through are not gender-specific," she said.
Green places his version of "Hamlet" in a world "very much like our own." The characters wear contemporary clothes, and though Machula is referred to as the King he wears a presidential suit and rep tie.
Green furthers the contemporary setting by adding video scenes shot by Sam Ambler, still photographs by Jesse Folks and live, original music by Larry Gates, Gates-Markel's husband. The set is minimalist, with a multilevel platform to the right of the audience and a simple throne to the left.
Green said the Station decided to present "Hamlet" because the theater company hasn't done Shakespeare for a decade or so and no other company in town was presenting Shakespeare this year. (The UI Department of Theatre usually produces at least one Shakespeare play each season but is not doing so this academic year.)
Because high school students study "Hamlet," Green and Machula are doing outreach to local schools. They spoke to two English classes at Centennial High and invite all high school students to see "Hamlet" for free this Friday or for $5 any other night.
"It might be an opportunity for some high school students to see theater for the first time," Green said. "It's also a way to let them and their parents know about us. We're looking ahead to future audiences."
Besides Gates-Markel and Machula, other cast members in "Hamlet" are Carolyn Kodes-Atkinson as Gertrude; David Barkley, Polonius; Aaron Clark, Laertes; Katie Baldwin, Ophelia; Mike Prosise, Horatio; Tanino Minneci, Rosencrantz; Mikel L. Matthews Jr., Guildenstern; Nate Jones, Marcellus; Monty Joyce, Bernardo; Dar'Keith Lofton, Captain/Attendant; Michael Murphy, Gravedigger 1; Brittany Helfrich, Gravedigger 2/Attendant; David Butler, Ghost; and Christopher Terrell Brown, Fortinbras.
If you go
What: Celebration Company presents William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," directed and adapted by Mathew Green, with Lindsey Gates-Markel as Hamlet, featuring original music by Larry Gates
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; Nov. 7-11; Nov. 14-17
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $10 Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 Fridays and Saturdays
Reservations: 384-4000; http://www.stationtheatre.com
Of note: High school students with student ID can attend "Hamlet" for free this Friday; all other nights, tickets for high school students will be $5 (reservations are required)