Broadway Review: McTeer Dazzles In 'Bernhardt/Hamlet'
The show: “Bernhardt/Hamlet” by Theresa Rebeck at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway venue, the American Airlines Theater on 42nd Street.
What makes it special: Story of legendary turn-of-the-last-century French actress Sarah Bernhardt in her attempt to be the first woman to play the title role in “Hamlet.” Janet McTeer stars.
First impressions: McTeer is dazzling as an actress coming to terms with sexism, ageism, and her own acting challenges in undertaking the daunting role of the young Prince of Denmark. She just can’t find the essence of the man in the role Shakespeare has written. But Rebeck’s script itself veers in many directions, and could have used a more discriminating editing hand.
What’s it about?: It’s 1899 and the world-famous actress in her 50s decides to undertake the role. But she has significant doubters: from a critic (Tony Carlin), from an artist (Matthew Saldivar), from her loving son (Nick Westrate) who has his own agenda and even from her lover playwright Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner) — who she implores at the height of her difficulties to “re-write” “Hamlet” without the poetry so she can feel more comfortable with the script. Tricky thing that iambic pentameter.
But the script would be in French, no? : Oui.. So the scene about the rhythms of the Bard’s text doesn't jive.
And Rostand also wrote…? “Cyrano de Bergerac” and that play makes a surprising — and dubious — appearance at the end here, including one entire scene from Rostand’s work. (Bernhardt objects to the sentimental depiction of Roxanne in his play and she makes a powerful case. Indeed one can picture this as the new go-to audition speech for women.) This highlight followed by a flacid scene from Rostand’s play that sidelines the argument — and puts the brakes on Rebeck’s play,
But “Berndhardt/Hamlet” is still engaging theater and Rebeck writes with energy, intellect and humor. Indeed, this Sarah is sly, witty and even in her flawed egocentric self, beguiling and McTeer embodies all the colors of this dynamic role. Moritz von Stuelpnagel stages with efficiency and McTeer whips through Rebeck’s avalanche of words with panache. (Good thing, too, or else the show would be longer than its 2 hour-20 running time.)
Who will like it?: Woke women and men.. Fans of great acting, old and new.,
Who won’t?: Sticklers for facts. Sentimentalists of “Cyrano.”
For the kids?: Teens, especially young women, might appreciate the struggle that this celebrated woman faced then — and relate it to their now.
Twitter review in 140 characters our less: Fierce, charismatic and endlessly interesting McTeer is a divine Sarah and triumphs in bigger-than-lfe role, even as script and production flags.
Worth the ride to Manhattan?: Yes and even if imperfect the production should generate lots of discussion on the ride home.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: There’s some delicious lines — and comic takes — whenever the name of rival legendary actress Eleonora Duse comes up. But as I recall Duse was known for her naturalism while Bernhardt was the epitome of artifice. Just saying. Sometimes facts get in the way of themes.
The basics: It’s a limited run through Nov. 11 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. Info: 212 719-1300 or roundabouttheatre.org.