PTP/NYC Presents “GERTRUDE—THE CRY” @ Atlantic Stage 2

The Potomac Theatre Project returns to Atlantic Stage 2 this summer with two main-stage productions. I was immediately interested in Gertrude—The Cry, a play examining the passions of a woman mostly known for being the mother of a famously temperamental Danish prince.

This is not a regular “retelling” of a well-known story–nor should it be, under playwright Howard Barker’s pen. His work, a favorite of PTP (last year they tackled The Castle), is known as “theatre of catastrophe,” because Barker makes “no attempt to satisfy any demand for clarity or the deceptive simplicity of a single message.” Though Barker’s dialogue can be difficult to find meaning, it doesn’t fail to shock and titillate with its combination of heightened language and obscene subject matter.

Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)
Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)

Barker’s Gertrude (a stunning Pamela J. Gray) is not a misunderstood figure who has been wronged. She is just as culpable of her husband’s murder as Claudius, if not more so, taking on a Lady Macbeth level of glee as she plots with Claudius to kill the king—and in a shocking turn, have sex over the king as he is in his final death throes.

Later in the play, Hamlet (David Barlow) laments that “it’s so hard to shock them.” At first, Hamlet’s assertion rings false, as Gertrude’s pursuit of sex and betrayal bring about a host of lewd acts and words. But the second half of Gertrude—The Cry becomes a forgone bloody Shakespearean conclusion (It’s still based on Hamlet, after all). Its shock value decreases not because it’s a tragedy, but because the characters’ motivations are never fully defined.

Do not let that stop you from seeing this play, though. Fantastic performances abound, from Alex Draper’s all-knowing servant to Pamela J. Gray’s poised and devastatingly sensual Gertrude. My favorite had to be David Barlow’s Hamlet. His performance allowed me to finally see why a grown man (“student” though he may be) is a man-child overly obsessed with his mother’s sex life. Major props also go to Barker evening the gender quota, adding Isola (Kathryn Kates), Claudius’ mother, and Ragusa (Meghan Leathers), a much more capable foil to Ophelia (nonexistent in this play). And Barker’s language is a perverse delight to hear.

Gertrude—The Cry is not your mother’s Hamlet, nor would you want it to be. It is a fascinating and frustrating portrait of a woman who usually stands silent in another fascinating and frustrating play.

‘May Violets Spring’ Gives Ophelia Her Groove Back

In an alternate universe, Ophelia hatches the plot to spot Claudius’s guilt through a performance of “The Murder of Gonzago.” She and Hamlet are picnicking together, as lovers are wont to do, and when she proposing making slight changes to the text in order to highlight the king’s crime, Hamlet hesitates, saying, “But to violate a sacrosanct text with the mutterings of an amateur?” Ophelia responds, “Could you not?”

In this self-reflective moment, Ophelia is essentially standing in for this inaugural production of Dare Lab which re-writes Hamlet to give Ophelia’s voice greater central agency. James Parenti, who plays Hamlet (and who gave us a fantastic interview two weeks ago), adapted the canonical text, maintaining much of the original text but also writing some of his own where the women of Hamlet were otherwise silenced.

The fact that Ophelia feels so comfortable rewriting “Gonzago” is only just a hint of the type of new power Ophelia (a riveting Gwenevere Sisco) takes on in May Violets Spring. Her motives and desires are given their due. Here, she, Horatio, and Hamlet make up a trio of friends, and within the friendship she is a key player. She and Hamlet have plans of leaving Denmark and making a new life together, and his scheme to play crazy throws their plans into limbo. Ophelia speaks some of the play’s most memorable lines, (“what a piece of work is man,” parts of “to be or not to be”) and dialogue that belonged to other characters (like Hamlet’s confrontation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) are placed in new context as part of her own plight. Within her family dynamic, she is a pawn in the political games of her father Polonius (Michael Griffin), who tries to stay on the new king’s good side. Soon enough, she becomes a victim to Hamlet’s games as well and is forced to hatch her own plans to ensure her survival.


An economic hour and forty-five minutes gives the company enough time to cover the basic plot points and expand the world of the original play. Horatio (Monique St. Cyr) is given more significance (and a gender change) and Gertrude (Sarah Eismann) is allowed to meddle in her husband’s affairs with a heavy hand. But these changes are far more than just a behind-the-scenes expose at what really happened in Hamlet. In fact, Violets takes great liberty with the original, cutting and changing parts that do not serve the purpose of giving Ophelia new agency. In this new Ophelia, we find a fully-realized woman, an actor who takes her scripted fate into her own hands. What better way to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday weekend (because I’m sure Billy Shakes would have partied all week long)!

Catch May Violets Spring at Shetler Studios, playing through May 3rd. Tickets here!


Contemporary Shakespeare: “OT” and “The HAMLET Project”

William Shakespeare may have lived and died centuries ago, but artists continue to find new ways to present his work to contemporary audiences. Here are two projects that work to reinvent the Bard’s classics:


British spoken word artist Charlie Dupré released a music video retelling of Othello earlier this month. The piece is part of his ongoing project, “The Stories of Shakey P,” a collection of Shakespeare plays retold as rap songs. “OT” does a good job of breaking down Othello in a succinct, entertaining way, while also making it specific to contemporary British youth. The song also has a chorus reminiscent of Dido’s verses in “Stan”—sad, evocative, and crazy catchy.

To drink, or not to drink: That’s not a question.


The appropriately named Three Day Hangover is making Shakespeare a part of New York City nightlife with its highly energized bar-themed productions of the Bard’s plays. The HAMLET Project, which had a summer run at Harley’s Smokeshack, advertises itself as a “Shakespeare drinking theatrical event.” And boy, does it deliver. Cast members, armed with noisemakers, alert the audience to take shots throughout the show. (One cue guaranteed to kill your sobriety is to take a drink whenever a character says the word “king.”) The cast isn’t spared, either. Whenever a character dies, a bonus game called “Heaven or Hell” ensues, where the audience votes whether a deceased character goes to heaven (a shot of whiskey) or hell (a cup of boxed wine). At the performance I attended, only the actor playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern visited heaven’s gates.

Hamlet and company might drop more f-bombs than Shakespeare ever intended, and die-hard Shakespeare purists may not be pleased with Three Day Hangover’s liberal treatment of the text. Though it was on the irreverent side, many scenes still kept their dramatic gravity. The ghost scenes, in particular, were some of the best I’ve ever seen in a production of Hamlet (the ghost taking on the form of a homeless man notwithstanding).

Their next show, a treatment on Romeo and Juliet titled The R+J Experience: Star-Cross’d Death Match, premieres tonight at Harley’s Smokeshack—and I will definitely be attending. For more information, check out Three Day Hangover’s website.

Get Thee to a… Bar? A Conversation with “The Hamlet Project”

1 - David Hudson as Hamlet in The HAMLET Project - Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
David Hudson as Hamlet in The HAMLET Project (Photo by Lloyd Mulvey).

The Hamlet Project, a “A Shakespeare Drinking Theatrical Event” has been such a blast in a glass, it’s been extended until August 26th. I met the creative team (David Hudson, who is playing Hamlet, director Beth Gardiner, and producer Lori Wolter Hudson), and got to know more about this less-than-sober production:

Whose idea was this? How did it come about?

Beth: The Hamlet Project was born in Los Angeles in 2011. It was the idea of an actor and a director that David and I went to graduate school with at UC Irvine. They wanted to do a fun, unpretentious production of Hamlet that they could repeat over and over again in different ways. They cut the script and started a production in downtown Los Angeles. Fast-forward a couple of years, and I’m out here, David’s out here, Lori’s out here, and we thought it would be really awesome to do that here. We got the rights to do the script and made a very “New York” take on what it means to do Hamlet in a bar in New York.

David: We did a production in March in a little bar in Williamsburg. We did two nights and it was awesome.

Beth: It was ridiculous. The response was amazing.

Lori: We sold out both nights, and everybody said they wanted to see more of it.

David: The three of us got together and decided to do this incarnation of it in rep with a drinking game version of Romeo and Juliet that we are premiering in September.

Have you workshopped the Romeo and Juliet script yet?

David: We’ve done some read-throughs, and we’re about to start rehearsals as soon as we open Hamlet. Lori’s directing it, and because it is a very new project, will be more developmental.

Lori: It’s going to be a little more interactive.

David: The great thing about The Hamlet Project is that it is different night-to-night and it’s totally different every time that it’s done, and that’s what we really like about it. It’s totally unpretentious. We can’t be precious with it. We just have to do it 110% and get the audience really excited and involved with it. And it changes each time that we do it.

Beth: And the bar spaces are so small that we’re very close to the audience, in their lap, acting around them at times, drinking with them…

Lori: Don’t be surprised if an actor steals your beer.

Beth: I think it’s a really exciting night of story-telling. It’s drinking, it’s fun, it’s lighthearted, and then it’s also this great story with this great language with good actors doing it. It can’t help but be amazing.

What captured me about The Hamlet Project was despite the high concept absurdity of it all, the idea of bringing this play to where people congregate in New York City as natural audiences connects directly to Shakespeare.

Beth: Its definitely the Groundling’s version of Hamlet.

David: When you think about it, it’s down on that base level. There’s some great stuff happening with it, but it’s happening in a place where everyone is congregating.

What can audiences expect beside direct addresses and some drink stealing?

Beth: They’ll get Hamlet–the story of Hamlet–and they’ll get some twists that we incorporating. Hamlet has a play-within-a-play, and we offer up that play to be performed in a number of genres that the audience can vote on.

Lori: Polonius will be played by an audience member. That is decided when you get to the bar that night. It’s just whoever shows up.

Beth: There are drinking games when characters die.

What would be Hamlet’s drink of choice?

David: So much pressure.

Don’t say draft beer.

Beth: Nooooo.

David: Hamlet’s a whiskey man. I think probably in this production he’s a Manhattan man. Because we are in…

Beth: New York City!

David: He’s a rye Manhattan man. He likes it a little hard.

For more information on “The Hamlet Project,” check out their website:

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: