Let's tick off the selling points for Acting Up Production's Hamlet. First off, it's an outdoor show, running July 11 to 26 at the Clowes Amphitheater on the campus of Marian University. Second, it takes place in modern times. Third, it's set in Washington, D.C., a move inspired by TV shows like House of Cards and The West Wing, according to director R. Brian Noffke.
And finally, Acting Up's Hamlet is played by a woman, specifically Lauren Briggeman. And, to be clear, this isn't an exercise in drag. Nope, Hamlet is actually female in the world of the play.
According to Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction, by Tony Howard, actresses have portrayed Hamlet for more than 200 years, including Welsh actress Sarah Siddons in 1775 and Sarah Bernhardt on stage in 1899 (and as the first Hamlet on film in 1900).
Briggeman, an Acting Up vet who played Viola in the company's 2013 production of Twelfth Night, auditioned for the play before Noffke had decided on using a female Hamlet.
Even though many people know the story already, Briggeman says, "One big thing is not playing it as if the characters [know what happens at] the end of the play from the beginning. It's something [director] Brian and I talked about a lot. Hamlet doesn't know that Claudius is the bad guy until later in the play. Even if [audiences] know the end, the hope is that [they'll] be discovering things in the moment along with the characters."
Briggeman worked with Noffke to edit the play down from about four hours to its runtime of about two-and-a-half hours and to make it palatable and understandable to uninitiated audiences.
Beth Williams, Noffke's assistant who helped him found Acting Up Productions, says that they are hoping to attract audiences who wouldn't necessarily see Shakespeare.
"Shakespeare is not meant to be read, it's meant to be seen live," she says. "So many people don't want to see Shakespeare because they don't think they are smart enough or won't understand what is going on, but you will get [this production] when you see it."
Williams recommends this performance to families with pre-teens and older. "It's a great intro to Shakespeare. They'll think it's like what they've seen on TV. Audiences will see the words Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago that are still true today. They'll see that the things he said are timeless, even if they are said in different situations than the original settings."