Should The Prince Be A Woman Or A Man? In This Hamlet, That Is The Question

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Photo: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Hamlet 2017
Lenne Klingaman as Hamlet with the 2017 Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

William Shakespeare is still ruffling feathers, and making news, these days. A production of "Julius Caesar" in New York City's Central Park sparked controversy after the director decided to portray the title role as an egocentric populist who looked a lot like President Trump.

Here out west, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's recent interpretation of "Hamlet," in which a woman plays the prince of Denmark, has some questioning whether a female Hamlet can work.

Westword's Juliet Wittman, who appeared to be on the fence in an article about the play, writes: "What do you do with the actual words? Change all the 'he's' to 'she's'? Or 'Good night, sweet princess: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest'? It sounds beyond wrong."

Hadley Kamminga-Peck, who served as dramaturg for the festival's "Hamlet," tells Colorado Matters it absolutely can work. Women have been performing the role of "Hamlet" in professional, public theaters since the 1700s and the beauty of Shakespeare's plays, Kamminga-Peck says, is that they are open to interpretation.

"Four hundred years later, I don't want to see [his plays] done the same way every time and I don't want to do them the same way every time," Kamminga-Peck says. "If we don't continue to explore, then why are we still doing them?"

Celebrating 60 Years Of Shakespeare In Boulder

"Hamlet" is part of Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 60th anniversary season. To mark the milestone, the festival has remounted the plays featured in the inaugural summer season of 1958. That includes "Hamlet," as well as "Julius Caesar" and "The Taming of the Shrew."

Bill Mooney and Richard Bell, who are in their 80s and live in Boulder, performed in all three productions the first year. Bell, who also did a lot of tech work and made props for the festival, says the sets were nowhere near as elaborate as they are now.

"I think [we had] nothing but a bare stage in 'Hamlet,'" Bell says.

Mooney says another thing they didn't have back then were microphones. The casts had to really project, which could be a strain on their voices.

"With all that screaming, everyone was walking around sounding like froggy the gremlin," Mooney says.

Photo: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Taming of the Shrew, 1958
An archival image from a production of "The Taming of the Shrew" performed in the first season of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1958.

Both went on to have long acting careers: Bell co-founded The Upstart Crow Theatre Company in Boulder and Mooney was in the cast of the ABC soap opera "All My Children" for years. Both say they cherish their time with the festival.

"Hamlet," which stars Lenne Klingaman, runs through Aug. 13 at the University Theatre at the University of Colorado Boulder.