This month, Heritage Theater is serving up Hamlet with a twist.
“It tells the rest of the story, if you will,” said Director Krista Pennington.
The show Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet whose stories are left untold.
“It definitely isn’t conventional,” Pennington said. “It sort of tells the story of what happens to them when they’re not on stage, so they are real people dropped into the world of Hamlet.”
Pennington said the cast is doing a gender-reversal for the show, so now the actors are primarily women. Historically, there are only two women characters in the show, Ophelia and Gertrude, and now they’re being played by two men.
“To me it’s a bonus,” Pennington said about the reversal. “It’s giving a lot of really great roles for women that traditionally are all played by men.
“We’re not changing any of the pronouns, just in our world now ‘he’ means ‘she’ and ‘she’ means ‘he,’ and the lady is a gentleman and so on.”
Lis Hatfield, who plays Guildenstern, said the gender reversal hasn’t been as big of a deal as one would think.
“The most interesting part of it is actually how little it’s come up in rehearsal,” Hatfield said. “Most of the story is about characters ... looking for answers, wondering what's going on, figuring out how they relate to each other, what’s their place in the story. Gender is very outside what’s required to ask those questions.
“It turns out women can in fact tell stories that don’t require them to pursue love interests.”
The cast, made up of 12 actors and with some playing multiple roles, has been rehearsing since mid-June, and Pennington said “they are working amazingly well together.”
“The chemistry between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is just delightful and everyone, I feel like, is in a part that they shine in,” Pennington said. “I think it’s going to be a really great show and it’s going to be really funny.”
Hatfield described Guildenstern as the more serious character of the duo.
“I feel like Guildenstern is a little bit more serious and is always trying to reason things out, which is actually very much my personality,” she said.
Rosencrantz is played by Brooke Bruce, who said it was a “dream role.”
“I feel like we’re the same person essentially,” Bruce said. “He doesn’t think a lot and I don’t think a lot, so I can relate to that really quickly. We get to bring ourselves into it a lot, which is fun.”
Throughout the show, the two titular characters have quite a bit of conversation.
“We both have a couple monologues where we’re talking about mortality and existence and there’s a range of emotion I have yet to play in any show I’ve done,” Bruce said. “It’s nice to have that range and not be told to sit down and look pretty.”
The two laughed about how a lot of men were excited to audition for the female roles in the show, but decided not to when they found out it was a smaller part.
“They all said, ‘You know, I’d love to do this show, it’s just that Ophelia’s got such a small part, it’s not really worth it for us to go audition,’” Bruce said. “And I was just kind of rolling my eyes because that’s basically what being an actor as a female is all the time.”
Overall, the cast is excited to bring the show to the stage this month. Pennington said that even if you’ve never seen Hamlet, you can still enjoy the show.
“It is very complicated, but it’s also one of those shows that if you think you don’t get every single moment, it is still going to be enjoyable,” Pennington said.
“You don’t need to know a thing to enjoy the show,” Hatfield said. “The language isn’t as complicated as Shakespeare all the time and the wordplay is silly — half the time we don’t even know what we’re saying while we’re saying it.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
GRCC Spectrum Theater
160 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids
Aug. 10-19, $20 adults, $10 students