An argument for women playing Shakespearean male leads

 

John Tufts (Edmond Rostand) and Terri McMahon (Sarah Bernhardt) in Bernhardt/Hamlet at Goodman theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
John Tufts (Edmond Rostand) and Terri McMahon (Sarah Bernhardt) in Bernhardt/Hamlet at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

In “Bernhardt/Hamlet” now playing at Goodman Theatre, prolific playwright, screenwriter and novelist, Theresa Rebeck has pulled back the curtain on a real happening,  populated by real people. She colors it with witty, fictionalized dialogue in the first act.

Rebeck’s heroine, the incomparable French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, born Henriette-Rosine Bernard in 1844, had played Dumas’ “La Dame Aux Camelias,” which is repeatedly mentioned in the play as no longer a suitable role for an aging actress.

And she was in “L’Aiglon,” written by her lover, Edmond Rostand, a main character in “Bernhardt/Hamlet” played by John Tufts.

Just as important, is that Bernhard really did play male parts including Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which she preferred to Ophelia and Gertrude, and she did have to argue about those choices with the critics. But, after all, she was Bernhardt. By the way, her “L’Aiglon” role was as the Duc.

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