Local thespian troupe Persistence Theatre Company debuted their third show on Feb. 7 at the Barbara Barrett Theatre.
A company based on the core principles of feminism, Persistence is focused on bringing female-identifying actors to the stage, and offering lead roles to those actors. Their hiring practice also extends backstage, with female-identifying women directing, designing sets and managing the stage.
Aiming to “re-examine universal stories traditionally told by men, through a feminist lens,” the year-old company has already put on two successful shows (Berni Stapleton’s “Offensive to Some” and Robert Chafe’s “Isle of Demons”). Their third offering has also been met with enthusiasm from local theatre lovers.
In “Women Playing Hamlet: A Comedy by W.M. Downs,” not only are we offered a modern, female-centred take on a traditional Shakespeare classic, we are also treated to a spectacular performance showcasing the troupe’s obvious skill.
Claire Hewlett stars as Jessica, an actress struggling with her recent casting in the role of Hamlet. Unsure if she is capable of playing the part, Jessica is tasked with not only finding the character within her, but also with finding herself.
Throughout the show, Jessica encounters 18 different characters — skilfully played by Marie Jones, Sharon King-Campbell, and Janet McDonald — who bring both insight and absurdity to her ongoing mental strife.
Jessica solicits wisdom and gains mostly unwanted advice from friends, a Starbucks barista, a priest, a bicycle messenger, her niece, a bartender, a drunkard, a professor, her mother, a psychiatrist, a gravedigger and more — all of whom seem to also have an MFA in acting. The Home Shopping Network team, and two stars of “The Young and The Restless” also “help” our star.
Gwen, a hired acting coach, seems to be the most useless in helping Jessica into her role, but as we continue toward Jessica’s debut as Hamlet, we see the actress unconsciously get into her role, unknowingly aided by Gwen — the show will go on!
Not having seen “Hamlet” in its original form or in any of its adaptations, I was admittedly a little lost. I was told that knowing “Hamlet” wasn’t necessary to understand “Women Playing Hamlet,” but being familiar with the material would probably help.
There were a lot of big laughs from the audience at times when I was silent — apparently, a lot of the jokes were going over my head.
Still, I managed to chuckle a few times, giggling at pop culture references, digs about the patriarchy and at writer William Missouri Downs’ witty characters, perfectly played by Jones, King-Campbell and McDonald.
Though I felt disconnected from the overall driving plotline, the bulk of the show was highly relatable.
As a female, I also know the struggle of feeling inadequate, devaluing yourself and your work, and, of course, the hardships of being constantly scrutinized and socially conditioned by the patriarchal society we live in.
Women have been assigned roles — both onstage and off — and now more than ever, we finally hold the power to choose our roles. Girl power!