A new production of Hamlet the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles is wonderful.
I got more out of it, in terms of understanding exactly what was being said, that I have from any production of Shakespeare over the past ten years. For those of us who don’t know the plays by heart, that is a big point.
But mainly, the performances were superlative. Elizabeth Swain as the ghost was riveting. Hamlet, as played with just the right intensity by Lisa Wolpe, was always half mad, half pretending.
Natsuko Ohama as Polonius (lower left) was fussy and funny, exactly as he should be. Claudius (Veralyn Jones) was almost tragic–remorseful on occasion, cold and calculating other times. Minimalist set; excellent players.
The cast is entirely female, which I noticed in the first few minutes only because their voices are pitched higher than I might expect.
Five minutes in, caught up in the ghost’s appearance, gender became a background issue and by intermission, I had pretty much forgotten about this.
It turns out that Hamlet is iconic and doing an all-female show affects the play in the same way that using Victorian clothing might: It makes you do a double-take at first, and think about context and first impressions and stereotypes a little, and then you just settle back and enjoy because the play’s the thing.