‘Bernhardt/Hamlet’ Establishes Groundbreaking Conception

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Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre

Legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt, probably the superstar of her era, faces a tough challenge as she no longer plays the ingenue parts, yet is too young for the mature woman parts, meaning that she must craft theatrical pieces of merit for her portrayals.

With that, she decides to challenge herself with the ultimate Shakespearean piece, “Hamlet,” but with a different attitude and adaptation–one she commissioned to be written specifically for her. In “Bernhardt/Hamlet, the actress challenges the roles women played and believes she can make the piece more formidable if she chops out the verbosity of some parts and removes some of the rhyme from the Bard’s work.

“In a fierce exploration of women, power and the desire to create a lasting legacy, Theresa Rebeck’s new play (“Bernhardt/Hamlet”) is full of high comedy and human drama,” according to The Unicorn website.

The audience meets Sarah Bernhardt as the lights rise as she rehearses for the customary version of “Hamlet,” but questions the main character’s mind, age, and motives. She believes him to be 19 while most acknowledge him to be mid-30s. Bernhardt contends that the ghost of the father overtakes the plot while she wants the focus to remain on “Hamlet.” With that in mind, she wants the play rewritten to feature her own stylistic nuances.

Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre

“In 1897, the international stage celebrity Sarah Bernhardt sets out to tackle her most ambitious role yet: Hamlet. Her script and presentation of “Hamlet” could catapult her to godly heights or be the end of Bernhardt’s illustrious career. All of Paris is wondering what will happen, and the indomitable actress will not allow anything to hold her back,” The Unicorn theatre posted on its website.

For this comedy/drama, Cynthia Levin, producing artistic director called on local favorites Carla Noack to portray the out-spoken Sarah Bernhardt, Doogin Brown to play Edmond Rostand, Robert Gibby Brand to play Constant Coquelin, and Justin Barron to portray artist Alphonse Mucha. All four of the principles provide dynamic characterizations of real persons, giving their own interpretation of historical figures.

Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre

Noack is superb as Bernhardt as she delivers the stage diva to Kansas City audiences. She shows the outspoken actress needing confirmation at a difficult time in her career. Brown displays a man torn between his attraction to Bernhardt as his muse yet devoted to his wife, their newborn baby and his unfinished draft of his masterpiece, “Cyrano de Bergerac. From Brand, his delivery of Shakespearean verse and his vocal inflections always bring a smile to the audience. Brand’s recitation of verse drive home the fact, “Shakespeare should be experienced; not read.”

A surprise comes with the delivery of Alphonse Mucha’s character as Justin Barron just takes over in every scene he appears. Barron, by no means new to audiences sinks his teeth in the part of the artist and creates a dominate stage presence whenever he’s on stage. Heads turn with each of his entries. Wow!
“Bernhardt/Hamlet” guarantees a solid evening of entertainment with sharp characters performed by great actors. The script builds as the show progresses. Act I introduces the characters and gives enough background to the situation, with some comedic lines and good laughs. Act II lights up the audience as the characters expand and conflicts erupt. The electricity in Act II grabs the audience and pulls them into each scene.

Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre

One aspect that amazes the audience is the set construction on a turntable that allows for some really unique set changes as it rotates and displays what is happening at the same time in a different setting. The revolving set binds the scenes and settings together in a unique fashion not seen before. The design shows the audience what else is happening. Brilliant concept. Beautiful design. Staggering delivery.

The Unicorn again delivers a top-rated production that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. “Bernhardt/Hamlet” dazzles in all areas of the production.

The cast is: Carla Noack as Sarah, Doogin Brown as Edmond, Robert Gibby Brand as Constant, Todd Lanker as Francois, Keenan Ramos as Raoul, Khalif J. Gillett as Louis Justin Barron as Alphonse, Shannon Mastel as Lysette/ Rosamond, JT Nagle as Maurice/ Worker.

All of the technical aspects of the play demonstrate their expertise, savvy, and dedication to “Bernhardt/Hamlet” as evidenced by the finished product. While the play changes, audiences cannot help but notice the turntable set that contains several sets so that simple rotation shows what other aspects of the play proceed while the scene changes to the most important. The set design and thoughtfulness of the design astound.

Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre

The Production Team is: Director | Cynthia Levin, Stage Manager | Tanya Brown, Scenic Designer | Kate Winegarden, Scenic Consultant | Kelli Harrod, Lighting Designer | Zoe Spangler, Assistant Lighting Designer | Austin VanWinkle, Master Electrician | Taylor Sullivan, Sound Designer | Tom Mardikes, Composer & Co-Sound Designer | Mary Robinson, Sound Engineer | Stephen Jarvis, Costume Designer | Gretchen Halle, Props Designer | Eric Palmquist, Projection Designer | Rachael Carney, Fight Choreographer | Logan Black, Dramaturg | Felicia Hardison Londré, Production Assistant | Taylor Jene Sullivan, Production Assistant | Sheridan McKinley, Production Intern | Ashley Champion, Sound Board Operator | Abigayle Huggins.

Bernhardt/Hamlet continues through Dec. 29. Check The Unicorn Theatre website for dates, times, tickets. The Unicorn also features “Pay-What=You-Can” for Tues-Thurs. performances with advance booking required.

Tags: “Bernhardt/Hamlet” review, Unicorn Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Cynthia Levin/The Unicorn Theatre

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