Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Subscribe
Renew
Give a Gift


Logo

Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BERNHARDT/HAMLET
at American Airlines Theatre

GENDER ROLES
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ

  Jason Butler Harner and Janet McTeer/ Ph: Joan Marcus

To “thee” or not to “thee.” That is the question for the renowned French actress Sarah Bernhardt in Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet, a terrifically theatrical and entertaining but not quite airtight new Broadway comedy at the American Airlines Theatre. 

It’s 1897, while preparing to play Shakespeare’s doleful Danish prince, Sarah (Janet McTeer) is at a professional and personal crossroad. Just rehearsing the role has raised critics’ hackles. She’s in love with playwright Edmond Rostand (an invaluable Jason Butler Harner), who’s married. And she’s broke.

Still, the Divine Sarah, as she was known, expects to get what she wants – her way, her man, her role. And that includes getting Rostand to rewrite Hamlet to suit her needs.

So it goes in Rebeck’s clever fact- and fiction-fueled work, which makes you laugh and think about gender, power and theater. The play speaks to today, but, happily, never hammers its relevance. Rebeck (Seminar, Mauritius) is a smart writer. She trusts the intelligence of her audience. 

The play gets a lift each time Sarah goes through scenes of Hamlet with fellow actors including the real-life Constant Coquelin (a deft Dylan Baker). A terrible Prince Valiant-like wig is another great laugh.

But at times things go slack. A subplot about Alphonse Mucha (Matthew Saldivar) creating a signature Art Nouveau poster for Hamlet brings a minor payoff about missing fathers – Hamlet’s and Sarah’s.

And for all the talking about rewriting the Bard’s text, Rebeck never creates that scene. Too bad, since it could have been hilarious and instructive. Instead, the plot veers to Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. As Rebeck relates it, lovely but empty-headed Roxanne was written for her. After getting a taste of Hamlet, Sarah, who was famous for death scenes, chafed at the notion of playing a “moron.” Who needs a death scene – settling to play an idiot is suicide.

Directed for the Roundabout by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God, Present Laughter), the production is a looker. Rotating sets by Beowulf Boritt reveal two sides of Sarah. Costumes by Toni-Leslie James capture the period and character. Lighting by Bradley King lends shadows and glow as needed. Sound design by Fitz Patton ensures every stage whisper and outburst ring clearly.

Tony Carlin, as a snooty critic, Nick Westrate in the role of Sarah’s son and Ito Aghayere as Rostand’s sly wife lend fine support. Brittany Bradford, Aaron Costa Ganis and Triney Sandoval round out the cast as Hamlet players. 

A play about Sarah Bernhardt, of course, rises and falls on who’s playing the legendary star. McTeer, a Tony winner for A Doll’s House, elevates everything with her stirring voice and striking physicality. She’s funny, fierce and altogether magnetic. Simply put, Divine Janet.

 


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © TheaterNewsOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.