Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the great Janet McTeer take on the role of the wildly eccentric Sarah Bernhardt (a celebrated French actress of the late 1800s/early 1900s) taking on the mythically proportioned role of Hamlet in her own self commissioned work. Thus kicking off a very female centric array of offerings on and off Broadway this fall. Many of which you will hear about in future posts.
I knew nothing about Sarah Bernhardt when I walked into the theater – now I am a little obsessed with this captivating creature. Highly recommend reading the helpful primer on Sarah Bernhardt in your playbill for the scoop on her entertaining life as a masterful entertainer. Janet McTeer easily melts into this fearless, egocentric, and passionate, but also confounded, raw, and desperate individual. Her Bernhardt is desperate for affection and attention, desperate to connect with the character that is Hamlet, and desperate for an audience to pony up the money to see the performance; “critical acclaim” doesn’t pay the bills.
Through Janet’s interpretation of Bernhardt taking on the inimitable role of Hamlet – as a woman, in a judgmental man’s world – we learn a great deal about the layered and fascinating Sarah herself. She kept a tiger! She slept in a coffin (at times)! She had her way with men! She was obsessed with nailing death scenes! She continued her work on stage even after her leg was amputated (must be some story behind this factoid… I must now buy a biography to learn more). The range of emotions that Janet is able to conjure at a rapid fire pace is reason alone to see this funny, haunting and heartbreaking play.
At intermission the audience is left wondering… Will Sarah be able to connect with a version of Hamlet that she can brilliantly and authentically represent? Will society celebrate or ridicule her portrayal?
Does Act II answer these questions? Probably! But I have no idea. My fourteen year old date couldn’t make it past intermission.
So I must return! With a group!
I look forward to learning how Sarah Bernhardt pulls off the coveted role of Hamlet on her own hard fought and emotionally draining terms. If you decide to grab your group and go I promise you won’t be able to take your eyes off the fabulous and mercurial Janet McTeer as she brings these two magnificent characters to life.
The next iteration of this play should be McTeer/Berhardt/Hamlet, incorporating the process that Janet endured to assume this role. 🙂 But that is fodder for another day…