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"THE GREAT FRENCH TRAGEDIENNE MAY HAVE BEEN MISGUIDED IN ATTEMPTING TO PLAY HAMLET, BUT SHE WAS UNDOUBTEDLY AMONG THE PIONEERS WHO SET THEMSELVES THE TASK OF RESCUING SHAKESPEARE’S PRINCE FROM THE MESHES OF ROMANTIC CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION.” - M. MAURICE SHUDOKSY, ACADEMIC


a woman can’t play a man—it’s in print! I wish I could say things have changed from Sarah’s time, but they haven’t, really. In our time, it’s perhaps a little subtler, but the problem has come back with new teeth. Radically overqualified women still don’t receive the opportunities and positions they deserve. I write about gender politics so often because they’re perennially relevant. The world is what it is. I write what I see.


TS: Another idea in the play is how theatre is an act of self- transformation or self-invention—what intrigued you about this particular idea? TR: I’ve been writing plays since I was very young—since I was practically a kid—and at a certain point everything you write becomes, in some way, about your process. In a lot of ways, this is a play about creating theatre, about the process of creating a character and internalizing him, about the existential dread and joy of searching, searching, and finally finding it. So what interested me about self-transformation and self-invention, well, I’ve been thinking about it for years! It’s constantly in the back of my mind as I’m creating theatre.


TS: How have you been collaborating with the director, Moritz von Stuelpnagel? TR: We met because Moritz had wanted to do a revival of one of my early plays, Spike Heels, for a long time. We’re still hoping to do that, but until we get further along he directed readings of a few of my plays, and we immediately got offers to do full versions of them. So there was an element of kismet involved. Our partnership did move a little more quickly than we anticipated, but that’s largely because there’s a natural affinity between the two of us. He’s really funny and excellent with language. He treats everyone, actors, producers, writers, very professionally and with a great deal of kindness, which is so important to me. He leaves lots of room for me to work with the play and with the actors, but he’s also completely capable of taking the show in his hands.


TS: What other projects are you working on? What are you most excited about writing next? TR: I have a couple of movies coming out soon. I wrote, directed, and produced Trouble, which stars Bill Pullman and Anjelica Huston as a brother and sister feuding over a patch of family land. David Morse is also in the cast. There’s also 355, which stars Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, and Fan Bingbing as members of a spy agency. That was just announced a few months ago, and I’m very excited to be writing the screenplay. I’m also very happy to be at work on my fourth novel, which deals with the effects of globalization, increasing interdependence, and the consolidation of power and money in the hands of the few.


TS: You have been a respected member of the theatre community for almost 30 years. What changes or developments have intrigued or excited you? What work is left to be done from your point of view? TR: When I started, there were very few plays by women being done at major theatres. Almost none. It felt like there was a vacuum, and that there was a real need for women’s voices, so


BERNHARDT/HAMLET UPSTAGE GUIDE 5


as a female playwright, I felt like I had something to bring to the conversation. But they weren’t exactly excited to see us, even after Emily Mann and Tina Howe and Marsha Norman and Wendy Wasserstein had made such breakthroughs. When #MeToo took off earlier this year, I think a lot of the obstacles and the issues women have had to negotiate started to become more apparent—and I do think there’s more openness, more willingness to discuss—but there’s still much to be done. It still feels like we’re not fully listening to or valuing each other as artists and collaborators and friends. I look forward to continuing this conversation and pulling up work that’s historically been pushed down, and I think now is the time to do it.


TS: Did you have any teachers who had a profound impact on you as an artist? TR: Oh, I had so many teachers that meant so much to me along the way. But I’ll mention one specifically, who gave me advice that has stayed with me for years. My dissertation adviser at Brandeis was a man named Timo Gilmore. He wasn’t in the theatre department; he was a literary scholar who knew everything about early American literature—he was a big Moby Dick expert. He looked like a fire-and-brimstone preacher from the 1700s, like John Edwards or George Whitefield; he was a really intense guy. At first, he scared me to death with his intelligence, but I came to see his wisdom and his warmth. He was so personally proud of me when I started to have plays produced; he gave me a lot of courage. And then one day we met up, in Boston, I hadn’t seen him for a while and we were having a coffee, and I had been bumped around rather cruelly by a few truly insane notices, and he could see how upset I was. I’ll never forget sitting in that coffee shop, feeling just horrible, and he said to me,“I sense that they’ve gotten into your head, Theresa. You must not let them. All of that is simply noise.” It was good advice. They still get into my head, of course, but I also have Timo in there saying, “Don’t let them. Do your work.” It’s nice, that he’s there in my head, when I need him.•


Dylan Baker, Jason Butler Harner, Paxton Whitehead and Janet McTeer in rehearsal for Bernhardt/Hamlet


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