|Mary Ewald as Hamlet (John Kazanjian)|
New City Theater
October 22 – November 15, 2014
Did you know that many heralded women have played Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play? That the first recorded woman to play Hamlet was Fanny Furnival in Dublin, 1741? She was followed by many renowned (often middle aged, often Lesbian) actresses over the centuries. It’s no surprise that women have longed to play such meaty roles on stage; but perhaps more of a surprise is to learn just how many women, including Sarah Bernhardt at age 55, and (Dame) Judith Anderson at age 72, have played Hamlet on stage and screen.
Artists have found an internal conflict of the masculine and the feminine within Hamlet, and that conflict has served as an interpretive blueprint and approach to the character for Mary Ewald and John Kazanjian at New City Theater. Their upcoming production stars Mary Ewald as Hamlet.
I spoke to Mary about why she is willing to tackle the role as she prepares to take the stage. Mary says, “I've read a fascinating book on women playing Hamlet. Many of the women playing Hamlet were lesbians looking for a better challenge than most plays gave them. Most interesting is reading about different interpretations, and what a woman may bring out in the role that rings differently than a male actor playing it.
“A lot of people have written about Hamlet’s “feminine” side. He doesn’t dash into revenge, he thinks things through. So gay men are drawn to the role because it allows them to bring out a softer side. Intellectual actresses have been drawn to Hamlet’s full fleshed character. It was very common in the 1800s to have women play Hamlet.
“A lot of (women) have also been leading feminists. The women playing Hamlet embodied women’s right to education because it was such an intellectual part.
“We’ve known we wanted to do Hamlet for the better part of a year and John wanted to do it with me. I didn’t think I wanted to play it. For practical reasons, the financial and person-power-wise it’s unlikely we’ll try to do something as big as this again.
“I started work on the role two months prior to rehearsal. I'm hoping all the solo work I've done has put me in good shape to tackle this mountain of a role. In 32 years of professional work together, this is only John’s (Kazanjian) and my second collaboration on a Shakespeare play. (Previously we did King Lear with Clayton Corzatte.) I’ve done a lot of solo shows, so the unrelenting nature of the dialogue isn’t as difficult as it could be. It’s still a little overwhelming.
“Another good underpinning is that we’ve done a lot of transformation acting where one has to make completely different character or emotional jumps, sometimes not in a naturalistic way. As I move into Hamlet, is he mad? is he not? Antic behavior becomes a bit like transformational acting. Finding temperamental shifts of his: from cool and rational he flips into impetuous instinctual hot emotions and a moment later he flips into something else. That instability is very interesting to delve into.
“The first place you see him assume this antic nature is with Polonius as he pretends he doesn’t know who Polonius is. He makes it pretty clear that he’s trying to find out information in a methodical way to be sure the Ghost is telling him the truth. He’ll be perceived as less dangerous to his Uncle if people think that he’s mad.
“We're very excited (about) this ensemble. Anthony George Catalano is returning to stage after a 20 year hiatus to play Horatio. He was in the first several New City productions starting in 1982. Todd Jefferson Moore has worked with us steadily over the years, and collaborated with John on original work. Two other independent writer/performers who have created new work with John are returning: Elizabeth Kenny and Kristen Kosmas. Peter Crook has been a frequent member of our ensembles, going back to King Lear, as well as SeanJohn Walsh.
“John has created the environmental production design in which the single row audience is only a few feet away from the actors. It’s intimate in relationship to the audience. The immediacy to the actor allows you to do different things. It will be exciting to do soliloquies to this audience. One can whisper in this space, which will be really cool. The sword fight could be a little exciting!”
There are only 32 seats per performance so you’ll want to get your tickets soon! For more information, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/859214 or call 800-838-3006.