by Kevin T McEneaney
Perhaps the title above should read Rebecca Brown Adelman resurrects Theresa Rebek’s excellent play Bernhardt/Hamlet (2018) in Rhinebeck at the Center for Performing Arts. Sarah Bernhardt was the first woman to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet (with some cuts and adaptations) on stage in 1889, which was so successful that it was taken to London in 1900. Just as Shakespeare’s Hamlet play was written out of rage for the accidental assassination of his son Hamnet through wine poisoning by the Secret Service at a banquet in Stratford, Sara Bernhardt’s ambition to play Hamlet as the boy-man she conceived Hamlet to be, tormented her into sublime greatness, despite the efforts of theater critics, the public at large, and her son, to prevent her from assuming the challenge. Rebecca Brown Adelman offers that greatness, wit, and emotional torment, as she becomes a lightning bolt in the final scenes of this play, which meditates on the confusions and temporalities of our gift for life and acting.
The production of this well-researched play by Rebek is a Center Stage Production by Shakespeare-expert Lou Trapani and Directed with meticulous passion and wisdom by Joe Eriole. While the play dances with wit and humor, it is a tragicomedy that sails with humor and tension over many apparent obstacles. One of these obstacles is the theater critic Francois played with cynical, argumentative pride by Alex Skovan. Sincere admiration and encouragement are charmingly offered by Michael Brunetti as Alphonse Mucha, the artistic designer of famous posters. Costume designs by Donna Letteri were superb!
While Sarah attempts to discover her own interpretation of Hamlet’s character, her lover Edmund Rostand (twenty-four years her junior), played by Joshua Ezra with self-confident rectitude, was writing his greatest play, Cyrano de Bergerac, in which Sarah played the role of Roxanne after her London performance of Hamlet. But there was a complication during their long-running passionate affair: Rostand was married with two young children. Enter Kirstin Horn as the affable, polite, yet determined wife of Rostand with a rhetorical gambit to upend the lovers affair. The play is a complicated duel of wits as well as acting. Toward the conclusion of the play, Sarah’s son Maurice, amusingly played by Luis Jordan, appears begging for money and delivering maddening argument with a Cheshire cat smile.
Deft humorous touches are provided by Maggie Bogan as the slightly mischievous Lysette. Andrew Austin and Janey Langan delineate a lively scene as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. John Schmitz as Constant Coquelin supplies blithe acceptance of madness and shenanigans as an actor’s actor who has seen it all at some point in his life.
This is another meta-play, a play about what it is, and means, to be a chameleon to the world. Rebecca Brown Adelman is incandescent, whether playing Hamlet or Sarah! The play consists of many short scenes conducive of contemporary sensibilities like a large piece gig-saw puzzle that is easily put together without tedium. The pace leading to the last two climatic episodes remains electrically thrilling.
Here is a chance to see and hear Hamlet as you will not likely have a chance to catch it again. This stellar production in the National Scripp’s Shakespeare series runs to April 23rd. For more information or tickets go to https://www.centerforperformingarts.org/