ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE MAJESTIC THEATRE
From left: Barfly (Aubrey Piper), the Bartender (Arlee Olson), and Jessica (Lauren Pickthorn) enjoy a riveting conversation about Hamlet in the Majestic Readers' Theater Company's production of William Missouri Downs' "Women Playing Hamlet." See below for ticket details.
Beco,ming the dane
Majestic Readers' Theatre Company Stages 'Women Playing Hamlet'
By audrey caro
Sometimes in life we're expected to do things we don't feel prepared for or capable of. Such is the case for Jessica, the protagonist in the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company production of “Women Playing Hamlet,” opening Saturday, Nov. 28, at Corvallis’ Majestic Theatre.
The comedy follows the actress' journey as she struggles with self-doubt and her own identity after being cast as the troubled titular lead in a New York staging of William Shakespeare's 17th century tragedy.
“Jessica experiences a process that I have gone through many times in my life,” Lauren Pickthorn said of her character. “Crises of self are not limited to the young adult experience.”
Jessica (Lauren Pickthorn), newly cast as Hamlet, regales the home audience with stories of her journey.
WHAT: Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company presents "Women Playing Hamlet"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28 (Link available for 24 hours after); 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29 (Link available for 24 hours after)
COST: Pick what you pay, $10, $15 or $20
INFO: Majestic Theatre online
SEE THE SHOW
Many parallels exist between Jessica's identity struggles and the ones Pickthorn's faced herself in the last nine months dealing with the pandemic.
“When you have to completely shift how you do life, you find yourself doing what needs to be done, or, as stated in the play, 'in the roles that life has cast you,’” she said. “That can feel really overwhelming and confusing. Sometimes as I sit at home behind my computer, looking over at my kids struggling in their Zoom classrooms — I have to remind myself that God has built me for this. I am enough. It is my 'complete self' that helps assemble the mess into something new and beautiful.”
Brandi Douglas directed the play, which was recorded and will be accessible via live stream Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28-29. Performances begin at 7:30 and 2:30 p.m., respectively, and their links will be active for 24 hours.
Tickets are available on a pick-what-you-pay basis for $10, $15, and $20. They may be purchased online at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=117192.
“Women Playing Hamlet” marks Douglas’ second overall directing credit and
her first for the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company.
“I really enjoyed the quirkiness of the play,” she said. “I immersed myself into the script and found something much deeper than at first glance. It is a comedy and so much more. I hope the audience laughs their heads off just much as I did in rehearsal with this outstanding cast.”
William Missouri Downs wrote “Women Playing Hamlet” for an all-female roster, each in multiple roles, include those of men. Diane Edwards Slamp plays Jessica's acting coach. Angie de Morgan, Abrianna Feinauer, Arlee Olson, and Aubrie Piper take on multiple roles.
One of the thoughtful comedy’s lines reads that Hamlet, “like all women, is trapped in a life-long masquerade where she is all things to all men, but never her 'self' except when she's alone.” Pickthorn said a scene between Jessica and the bartender, played by Olson, speaks to this.
“The bartender ... points out that men operate in absolutes, 'ones and zeros,' and are cast in fewer life roles than women,” Pickthorn said. “That isn’t necessarily true, but it points out that the experience of women has an overwhelming amount of factors, and as women we often spend time holding and nurturing each of those factors. Working with an entirely female cast and artistic team helped me feel the freedom to really dive in and understand all the pieces of Jessica. I didn’t feel rushed to make choices or move forward if I wasn’t ready. We as performers felt we had the space to enjoy the journey of the discovery of our characters' 'authentic, perishable self.'”
The team had to make adjustments to the usual process because of restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Most rehearsals took place over Zoom.
Jessica's acting coach Gwen (Diane Edwards Slamp) earns her pay by telling her client the truth.
“We didn't meet in person until the week of filming,” Douglas said. “While we were together, the Majestic Theatre did an amazing job having a thorough and understandable process for us to utilize while performing under a pandemic.”
They all took those precautions seriously and still had an incredible experience, she said.
“Obviously, nothing can replace being on stage with an audience,” Douglas said. “However, there is still magic being created within the safety restrictions created and that means a lot to me. Being creative has helped me remain present and brought joy in a time when I (and I believe others) need it.”
“This particular show is heavy on audience involvement, so to overcome the awkwardness I tried to channel one of my favorite 'fourth-wall-breaking' TV shows,” Pickthorn said. “In treating the camera like the audience, helped me to not rely so heavily on the in-the-moment audience interaction that I’m used to. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Jim Halpert-style glance to camera?”
Douglas hopes audience members see how much Jessica transforms.
“I hope the audience interacts with Jessica since she spends the majority of the show talking directly to them,” she said. “Verbally agree or disagree with her as if she is telling you her story in your living room, because that's exactly what she is doing.”
Majestic supervisor Jimbo Ivy said performers are missing that audience feedback.
“There is a profound sense of emptiness,” he said. “Actors feel a profound sense of loss after that project they've been working on (comes to end).”
That feeling of loss is more intense now with lack of interaction, but Ivy said audience members can show their appreciation to the cast and crew. Provide details about what you enjoyed or what spoke to you, and remember the tech people.
“Pretend you're walking up to them in the lobby after the show and just write that down,” Ivy said. “Send the Majestic a message or post on our Facebook.”
"We as performers felt we had the space to enjoy the journey of the discovery of our characters' 'authentic, perishable self.'"