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REVIEW

Gender-bending ‘Hamlet’ intrigues

The Alternative Arts Collective presents an exciting, thought-provoking adaptation
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Hamlet was an existentialist before it was trendy.

Or maybe existentialism — “To be, or not to be, that is the question” — was in vogue back in the late-1500s, too. Regardless, the character’s philosophical musings have kept him an interesting case study for audiences and psychoanalysts for centuries.

The Alternative Arts Collective devised another way to make Hamlet fascinating and contemporary. They envision the character as a woman, and one with a lioness mane of auburn hair and a violent streak.

The local troupe known for doing daring theater presents William Shakespeare’s tragedy with a post-apocalyptic and gender-bending twist through May 14 at the Royer Arts Center in Roseville.

Adapted and directed by David Blue Garrison, this interpretation adds intrigue to what otherwise might be just an old, convoluted storyline with complex dialogue that turns some people off.

Instead, this well-acted and exciting version appeals to a modern audience.

Women dominate the lead roles, resulting as TACC says, “in an intense, thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, as well as a re-envisioning of Hamlet’s struggle with her mother’s actions.”

The show begins before the show as a woman in black military-type gear with stained-red lips holds a machine gun and stands before the audience perfectly still. Fog surrounds her. She waits there 20 minutes as audience members take their seats.

It’s touches like this that keep the audience engaged throughout the three-hour long production.

Denmark is in ruins, a shadow of a kingdom. King Hamlet tries to restore the country to its former glory, but is found dead in the royal orchards of Elsinore. Queen Gertrude marries the late king’s brother, Claudius, passing him the crown.

This doesn’t sit well with Princess Hamlet.

It gets worse when the king’s daughter receives a ghostly visit from her father who lets her in on a little secret regarding the nature of his sudden death. He was murdered, of course, and demands his fate be avenged. But how exactly will Hamlet, Jr. do this? And why does she drag her plans for revenge on and on?

As Hamlet wrestles with the murder of her father, she also struggles with her lovesickness for Ophelia, the daughter of the new king’s trusted adviser. Enter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern — Hamlet’s friends who have come to spy and figure out the reason for her erratic behavior.

Oh, the deception!

The fearless, physical acting by Lindsay Grimes as Hamlet grows increasingly more abandonded, and by the play’s end, she’s left it all out there on the stage. Denver Vaughn plays Ophelia exquisitely and empowered.

Dressed in hipster-gothic garb and with streaks and dots painted on their faces, this cast recites Shakespeare’s lines without hesitation. They were impressively prepared for opening night.

The Bard relied heavily on solilioquies, rather than action, to move Hamlet’s story along. The play is long — his longest — and directors often omit parts. Garrison’s version might have benefitted from hacking away at a few more lines, especially when Shakespeare goes off on tangents.

Watching this alternative adaptation of “Hamlet” does make one recognize the timelessness of Shakespeare — love him or hate him — and his perception of life, and the grief, rage, sex and violence that often accompany it.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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The Alternative Arts Collective presents “Hamlet”

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 14, and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 8

Where: Royer Arts Center, 190 Park Dr. in Roseville

Cost: $12

Info: Brief nudity and violence, not recommended for kids. Visit www.facebook.com/TheAlternativeArtsCollective or www.taactheatre.com. Buy tickets at the door or online at www.brownpapertickets.com, keywords “TAAC Hamlet.”