A Unique Spin on Shakespeare's Classic Tragedy

Published: September 28, 2015 | Author: Michael French | Read Time: 4 minutes

Halie Merrill as Hamlet

The prince of Denmark undergoes a unique transformation in Southern Utah University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance’s production of William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy Hamlet. The title character will be played by a woman with gender reverse casting in other prominent roles. This innovative rendering of the classic will be the final production in the Adams Memorial Theatre with performances on October 2, 5, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30pm. The production is directed by Peter Sham, associate professor of theatre arts.

 “Hamlet is a play of such scope and familiarity,” said Sham. “How can we make it new, our own, or perhaps even allow a new generation of audiences to see it from a different perspective?”

That question inspired Sham to keep an open mind while casting. “As one actress after another began to dazzle, the thought of setting Hamlet in a Matriarchy emerged,” said Sham. “Why not a Hamlet who was a woman? Not a woman playing a man, but a woman. And why couldn't the famous female roles, Ophelia and Gertrude, be men? Why not? We invite you to open your minds and see Hamlet from another side, a Hamlet for a new generation.”

This unique production is set in a non-specific time period heavily influenced in its design concept by the matriarchal society of Danish Vikings in which women assumed leadership roles typically held by men.

As for the young actress playing the conflicted Danish royalty, Halie Merrill is both grateful and nervous to be playing this iconic role. “I have tried and tried to find the right words to express how I feel and the truth is: I am terrified. I am grateful, I am excited, and I am terrified. It's Hamlet! It doesn't get more intimidating than that for a young actor, especially with the unique chance I get as a woman to play the part. I am going to give this production everything I have.”

This past summer Halie Merrill was in SUU’s Fellowship Program at the Utah Shakespeare Festival appearing in South Pacific, Amadeus and The Greenshow. In summer 2014 she performed roles in Star Spangled Girl and Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Neil Simon Festival. At SUU, Halie performed leading roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, An Ideal Husband and Dancing at Lughnasa.

Collaborating with Sham on developing his vision are set designer Brian Jude Beacom, costume and hair and makeup designer Ellen Osborne Kemp, lighting designer Andie Szekely and sound designer Ryan Turpin. Errin Gropp serves as stage manager, with assistance from Hannah Fontes and Kristine Norby. Guest artist Chris DuVal is the show’s fight choreographer.

In addition to Halie Merrill in the title role, the cast features Trevor Messenger (Ophelia), Henry Ballesteros (Polonius), Selena Price (Laertes), Kade Cox (Gertrude), Amber James (Horatio) and Madison Ford (Claudius). The cast also features Tammi Colombo, Kaitlyn Curry, Brandon Grayson, Alex Grieg, Lauren Hoover, Joshua Hopkins, Michaela Kelly, Courtney McMullin, Abby Nakken, Madeline Peck, Justin Stockett, Robby Wilson and Cooper Wilt.

Experience one of the world’s greatest tragedies in a new realm. Ticket prices are: $10 Adult General Admission; $8 Alumni with card, $5 Youth and free for Faculty/Staff and SUU students with a valid ID. Faculty and staff are entitled to bring one guest. The CPVA Flex Pass offers six admissions to any theatre, dance or music event and can be used for a single entrance to a production or can be used to admit six people to one event. The pass can be used in any multiples for CPVA ticketed events. The cost of the Flex Pass is $40 per pass. For tickets or the Flex Pass, call the SUU Ticket Office at (435) 586-7872, Mon-Fri, 8am-4:30pm, or purchase in person at the Centrum Arena box office. Single tickets may be purchased online at www.suu.edu/pva.

The 2015-2016 Theatre Arts & Dance Series includes the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical Next to Normal, the delightful Toyland: The Holiday Family Musical Treat, the classic comedy You Can’t Take It With You, and Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical RENT. The series also includes two dance concerts: Creative Variations: the Student-Choreographed Dance Concert and Elevated Movements: the Faculty-Choreographed Dance Concert.  

Photo credit: Halie Merrill plays the title role in SUU's production of Hamlet. Photo: Line Uhlen

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