Frailty, thy name is woman. Or so one prince of Denmark was led to believe.
Whether Hamlet was right to say so is the main subject in the Celebration Company's latest incarnation of the eponymous play, and the argument continues at the Station Theatre for another fortnight.
Truly, "to be or not to be" is not the question director Mathew Green asks his audience, but rather: "Is Hamlet really Hamlet." Lindsey Gates-Markel's portrayal of the lead character is the key.
Women have often been cast as Hamlet through the years, although the usual directing choice in that circumstance is to either play it straight (i.e., as a male), or to convert the role into a "Princess Hamlet" (again, straight), with all of the necessary conversion of character interests and affections.
Green seems to have chosen the former, but it isn't clear that Gates-Markel accepted that bit of direction. Her acting is overtly feminine, maintaining the manner, style, poise and personality of a woman (to coin a phrase, "You know it when you see it").
While this makes Hamlet's interaction with Ophelia all the more interesting, it begs the question: Is there a larger point to this exercise? Is Green building on Hamlet's unmanly qualities, such as his lack of power, his lost confidence or his diminished sexuality? Did he intend to highlight the helplessness of the genuinely female characters?
Whatever the reason, the portrayal challenges the conventions of authority and the stereotypes of masculinity and feminism — a difficult trifecta for a play dating back to the 16th century.
Among standouts in the supporting cast, Katie Baldwin's Ophelia perfectly portrays a damsel descending into madness upon losing everything that she held dear, while David Barkley's Polonius rings up that subtle mixture of nutty professor and impatient bureaucrat that makes the fishmonger's character so enjoyable.
King Claudius, played by Lincoln Machula, is a consummate politician though somewhat limited in his range. Queen Gertrude, portrayed by Carolyn Kodes-Atkinson, played the limited hand Shakespeare's pen has dealt her with stoicism and compassion.
Laertes (Aaron Clark) was passionate, and the Gravedigger (Michael Murphy) was, as always, the most honest character of the play.
In addition to weaving creative gender issues, Green's setting for Hamlet is thoroughly modern, with characters always texting, video chatting or frequenting the local club scene. Mary Black's sparse set, Jesse Folks' somber lighting and Larry Gates' dour music helped maintain a dark, familiar atmosphere in Elsinore castle.
Hamlet declares "the play is the thing." While that has been the consensus opinion of Shakespeare's masterpiece for more than 400 years, the vision of the Celebration Company adds a new and provocative perspective to the work, leaving audiences with something more to think about than Hamlet's eternal question of being.
Chad Beckett, a local attorney, has reviewed all manner of performances at local venues for The News-Gazette since 1995. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. today, Saturday and Sunday; Wednesday through Nov. 11; Nov. 14-17
Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway Ave., U
Tickets: $10 Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 Fridays and Saturdays.
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)
Reservations: 384-4000; http://www.stationtheatre.com